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Russian soldiers, dogs hunt for missing general

JANUARY 22: Soldiers and sniffer dogs searched on Friday for a top Russian general missing in action in Grozny while federal troops faced fierce resistance as they sought to push into the rebel capital on three fronts. Russia has officially remained silent on the fate of General Mikhail Malofeyev, whom the Chechens claim to have captured in Grozny on Tuesday. Some Moscow sources reported that Russia's military command suspects Malofeyev, the deputy head of the northern Army which opened the assault of Grozny on Sunday, was shot dead by a sniper during the fighting.

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed his men were interrogating Malofeyev, but he provided no proof the general was still alive. The loss served a stunning political setback to a campaign masterminded by acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, who on Friday re-launched his propaganda offensive against the Chechens in defence of the military action. ``The danger of terrorist acts in Russia is growing,'' Interfax quoted Putin as saying.

``The danger of such activities is increasing and will exist until we have dealt the final blow to the bandits in Chechnya,'' he said. ``Remember what happened in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk,'' said Putin, referring to cities where a wave of apartment block bombings blamed on Chechen militants killed 292 people last September.

He then recalled Russia's successful battle against Chechen-based Islamic guerrillas who twice invaded the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan last year, saying ``we smashed in the faces of bandits in Dagestan, when they started to feel powerless in a straight fight with us.'' Putin has used the apartment bombings and Dagestan incursions to justify Moscow's second war against Chechnya in three years.

Russian forces, after vowing not to storm Grozny, unleashed a final push into the well-fortified rebel capital on Sunday, but several sources reported that the five-day assault has stalled. Chechen spokesman Said-Khasan Abumuslimov told AFP by telephone from Chechnya that Russians were attempting to take the centre of Grozny from three sides but had made almost no headway. The troops attempted to move after each of the districts was first pummelled by heavy artillery fire for several hours in an effort to clear out the rebels. The Chechens claimed to have pushed back Russian troops moving from the eastern Khankala district by 200 metres.

Abumuslimov reported battles in the northwestern Staropromyslovsky district and a southeastern Zavodskoi region dotted with ruined factories and destroyed oil refineries. On the city's eastern front, fighting also raged around the canning factory which the Russians claimed to control earlier in the week. Russian defence sources meanwhile reported they still held control of a vital bridge over the Suznha River on the northeastern edge of the city. There was no immediate information of the fate of Minutka Square which opens the Russians' path into the heart of Grozny from the southwest.

Chechens say they have killed 100 Russian soldiers in the fighting, while Moscow officially put its toll at six killed and 11 wounded. Grozny officials admitted to losing six fighters. Moscow estimates that between 700 and 2,000 rebels are defending the well fortified but ruined city.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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