The shaky peace in Chechnya disintegrated further Monday when Russian troops shelled a police station in Argun to dislodge rebel Chechens holed up inside.
The skirmish was the second incident of heavy fighting in Chechnya in the past week and was seen as more evidence of how the Chechen rebel fighters increasingly have become factionalized.
Rebel military commander Aslan Maskhadov was to resume peace talks with Russian authorities in Grozny on Monday, and the attack on Argun was seen as an attempt by forces loyal to rebel President Dzhokar M. Dudayev to torpedo further progress.
The Chechens and Russians signed a preliminary peace agreement June 30 and some Chechen fighters have begun token disarmament, though most of the weapons handed in were reportedly damaged or obsolete.
Dudayev, after initially criticizing the peace accord, later said he would abide by it, then appeared to change his mind.
Russians and Chechens have since each accused the other side of undermining the agreement and staging attacks to derail the onagain, off-again peace talks.
Last week, Russian bombers struck a rebel stronghold in southern Chechnya after Chechen fighters reportedly shelled Russian positions. It was the first large-scale bombing since the peace talks began in June. Skirmishes also were reported in the town of Achkhoi-Martan in southwestern Chechnya.
On Sunday evening, a group of about 250 fighters under the command of Alaudi Khamzatov drove into Argun, about nine miles east of the Chechen capital, Grozny, and seized the local police station. Once a rebel stronghold, Argun was captured by Russian forces March 23 after a prolonged siege.
By midday Monday, Russian commanders had dispatched a column of tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships to Argun and began shelling the building. A Russian military spokesman said that by 8 p.m. Monday the rebels had been “destroyed” and that only a few individual bandits had managed to escape the Russian cordon. However, the Itar-Tass news agency reported that heavy fighting was still heard in central Argun.