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Russians Attack Separatists’ Base As Fighting Resumes In Chechnya

Russian troops backed by planes and tanks launched a large-scale operation Saturday against a separatist mountain base in Chechnya. More than 60 rebels and four soldiers died, the military said.

The operation targeted a “well-fortified” base defended by 250 to 300 rebels southwest of Shatoi, 28 miles south of the capital Grozny, said Igor Melnikov of the Russian military command.

Bad weather hampered the mission, but Russian troops managed to break through the front line of rebel defenses and were regrouping for a “decisive offensive,” Melnikov said, according to news agencies.

He said four soldiers were killed and four were wounded, while the rebels lost more than 60 fighters. Russian claims of separatist losses in the 19-month war routinely have proved to be exaggerated.

Despite the fighting, a top Russian commander, Col. Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin, and separatist military chief Aslan Maskhadov both said Saturday they were willing to meet to discuss resuming a cease-fire.

The renewed Russian offensive in the breakaway republic began shortly after Yeltsin’s July 3 re-election, which he campaigned for with promises to end the war.

More than 30,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent troops into Chechnya in December 1994 to crush the southern republic’s bid for independence.

Earlier, rebel attacks killed six Russian soldiers and wounded seven others in the breakaway republic, the Russian military command said Saturday.

The most serious incident occurred Friday near the southeastern village of Bachi-Yurt, where a Russian armored vehicle hit a land mine. Five soldiers died and one was seriously wounded, the military said.

In Grozny, a Russian officer was killed and five soldiers were wounded Friday as their car came under grenade launcher fire.

Another soldier was injured in a separate clash, according to the military command.

On Friday night, assailants believed to be separatist fighters attacked Chechen official Sharip Alikhadzhiyev and killed two bodyguards, said Ruslan Tsakayev, an official with the Moscow-backed Chechen government.

Alikhadzhiyev survived the Grozny attack, Tsakayev said, noting that the rebels repeatedly have threatened to kill Chechen government officials.

Meanwhile, Chechen government leader Doku Zavgayev said Saturday the apparent reappearance of Salman Raduyev, a guerrilla commander long reported dead by the Russians, was a hoax aimed at “fooling the people,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.