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Chechens still cause trouble for Russians.

Chechen rebels slipped past Russian lines advancing through Chechnya's Argun Gorge and clashed yesterday with troops in the foothills - despite Russian claims to control the region.

At least 70 rebels fled mountain hideouts and almost reached the village of Komsomolskoye near the entrance to the gorge when they ran into Russian troops, residents said.

Villagers fled in panic, and many huddled for hours on a nearby road while Komsomolskoye and surrounding fields came under intense artillery fire.

By evening the Russian military said it had killed several rebels and forced the rest back into the mountains. They said it was safe for residents to return. Several wounded civilians were brought to a hospital in the town of Urus-Martan.

After six months of bombing and shelling Chechnya, Russia claims to have occupied most of the separatist republic, including former rebel strongholds around the Argun Gorge. But the Chechens are still capable of launching guerrilla attacks.

Acting Russian president Mr Vladimir Putin, who has managed this Chechnya war since Moscow launched it last September, has said he would not hold peace talks and that Russian victory is within reach.

"It seems to me that organised opposition is practically impossible from this moment on," he said.

Yet in Chechnya, the military press centre acknowledged yesterday that the situation is "being complicated by the fact that small groups of rebels are moving into populated areas," according to the Interfax news agency.

Another group of fighters tried to flee the Argun Gorge on Saturday through a rough back road leading toward Komsomolskoye, but was stopped by a column of troops hiking up in the other direction. A Russian officer, who would not give his name, said there were heavy Russian losses.

Russian warplanes and artillery continued to target rebels hiding in dozens of villages between the Argun and Vedeno gorges, which cut south from Russian-occupied regions in the north to the few remaining rebel- controlled territories in the mountains.

The military command press centre said bands of rebels in villages between the gorges were trying to establish communications to co-ordinate a mass breakout into the lowlands.

Rebels firing grenade launchers and submachine guns also attacked police stations in two districts of the capital, Grozny, over the past 24 hours, the military command said.

The military command said six rebels had been captured in the fighting near the Argun gorge since Saturday and 50 more people were being held while being investigated for "membership in bandit groups'.'
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Title Annotation:Foreign News
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 6, 2000
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