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World - Europe

Russians, rebels beef up forces in Dagestan

Russian troops in Dagestan have mounted a large-scale operation against Islamic militants
New Kremlin shakeup as Yeltsin sacks Stepashin


Russia's future


Militants fire rocket grenades

August 9, 1999
Web posted at: 2:08 p.m. EDT (1808 GMT)

In this story:

Stepashin: 'We could really lose Dagestan'

Rebels to declare independence


MOSCOW -- Accusations and denials accompanied a third day of fierce fighting Monday between Islamic militants and Russian troops in the southern Russian province of Dagestan, where independence-minded rebels have taken control of at least three mountainous villages.

Both sides were reportedly reinforcing their troops in the mountainous Caucasus region, where fighting erupted Saturday.

The rebels fired rocket grenades Monday at an airstrip used by Russian forces in Dagestan, damaging a pair of aircraft, a Dagestani police spokesman said. Rebels also fired on a helicopter carrying Russian armed forces chief of staff Anatoly Kvashnin on Sunday, Dagestan government spokesman Timur Abdullayev said.

Kvashnin was not hurt in the Sunday attack, Abdullayev said, and the helicopter was slightly damaged. The Russian Defense Ministry denied the report, which was carried by Russian news agencies.

In the republic of Georgia, border guards said warplanes bombed a village near Georgia's border with Dagestan and Chechnya, injuring two people. Russia's air force denied any involvement, although there is no other air power in the area.

Russia's first casualties in the conflict came Sunday night, NTV television said, when Defense Ministry aircraft accidentally bombed their own positions and killed four policemen. Dagestani police said the four were killed in clashes with the rebels.

Stepashin: 'We could really lose Dagestan'

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, fired by President Boris Yeltsin Monday morning after a weekend visit to the unruly region, said the situation in the southwestern province was dire.

"Today, the situation in Dagestan is very difficult," Stepashin told a final meeting of his Cabinet. "I think we could really lose Dagestan."

Vladimir Putin, named by Yeltsin to replace Stepashin, threatened an unspecified "special regime" to quell the uprising in Dagestan.

Russia said the armed rebels -- estimated to be as many as 2,000 fighters -- entered the province from neighboring Chechnya, which won de facto independence after a disastrous war in 1994-1996.

Chechen officials deny involvement in the fighting, but the Moscow-backed Dagestani government said the fighters had been trained in Chechnya. And two Chechen field commanders -- Shamil Basayev and Khattab -- said in a statement that they had visited Dagestan over the weekend on an "inspection trip."

"Our Muslim brothers from Dagestan have asked us for help, and it is our duty to help them," Basayev said in a prepared statement.

Rebels to declare independence

Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who also visited the province along with Kvashnin, vowed to "wipe out" the insurgents.

The rebels are reportedly members of the Wahhabi sect, an austere brand of Islam practiced mainly in Saudi Arabia. Their goal, Russian security services said, is to drive the Russians from the north Caucasus region.

Dagestan's unofficial Islamic Council announced that it would convene a special meeting on Tuesday to proclaim the province an independent Islamic state.

Dagestani police arrested several people with ties to the Council after the announcement.

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, said it would meet Wednesday to discuss the situation.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Offensive readied against Dagestan militants, report says
August 7, 1999
U.S. missionary released from captivity in Chechnya
June 29, 1999
Bomb kills more than 60 in Russia
March 19, 1999
Chechen authorities shocked, embarrassed after beheadings
December 9, 1998
Explosion in Dagestan kills 17 people, injures dozens
September 5, 1998

Russia Today
CaspianNet: Dagestan Republic
Chechen Republic Online
NUPI Center for Russian Studies
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