Russian forces claim inroads in southern Chechnya

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The Independent Online

The Russian military has claimed to have made inroads into rebel-controlled territory in southern Chechnya, capturing strategic heights overlooking a key rebel stronghold.

The Russian military has claimed to have made inroads into rebel-controlled territory in southern Chechnya, capturing strategic heights overlooking a key rebel stronghold.

Federal forces also kept up air and artillery bombardments of the Chechen capital Grozny, as a major offensive to take the city entered a second week. Russian commanders said their forces fought off an overnight rebel attack on federal artillery positions northwest of Grozny, on the Tersky Heights.

After days of fighting, Russian paratroopers on Saturday overran the strategic heights near Vedeno, a major rebel center in southern Chechnya, the military said. The Russian forces can now position artillery on the heights, making it easier to drive the rebels out of Vedeno.

Russian artillery also continued to pound the nearby southern village of Serzhen-Yurt.

Russian forces have been trying to crush rebel fighters concentrated in the mountainous south of the republic. Russian jets and combat helicopters flew about 100 combat missions over southern Chechnya during the past 24 hours, the military said Sunday.

After taking the heights, the Russian forces seized a large cache of arms and ammunition, including grenade-launchers, two anti-aircraft rocket-launchers and a number of flame-throwers, said Maj. Alexander Diordiev, a military spokesman.

Russian commandee to taking the city center. Rebel fighters in heavily fortified positions have inflicted steady losses on the Russians.

The military claimed Sunday that its forces had eliminated seven Chechen commanders, including prominent warlord Arbi Barayev. But the military commandant of Grozny, Isa Munayev, denied the claim, the Interfax news agency reported.

A total of 89 rebels died in Grozny on Friday and Saturday, said Maj. Gen. Vadim Timchenko. Military headquarters said Sunday that 300 rebels had been killed in the southern mountains over the past 24 hours, while only eight Russian soldiers had been killed and 16 wounded, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The claims could not be independently confirmed, and both sides tend to overstate their opponents' losses while under-reporting their own.

Grozny is the only major town in Chechnya still held by the rebels after a more than three-month-old Russian ground offensive in Chechnya backed by intense air and artillery strikes.

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