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Russia seals off Chechen capital

Chechnya
Russian tanks remain a favourite target for rebel attacks  


VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- Russian troops have closed the Chechen capital amid fears rebels could be planning an offensive to mark the fifth anniversary of the battle of Grozny.

The troops found ammunition and arms on Sunday after sealing off Grozny and stepping up their patrol in the area to search for weapons and rebels.

General Sergei Kizyum, a Russian military commander in Chechnya, told Interfax news agency: "By tightening up security, efforts have succeeded to keep the situation under full control and prevent possible armed provocations by rebels, which could result in casualties."

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Security measures include checkpoints and roadblocks along the city's perimeter that has barred all traffic from the city -- including humanitarian aid.

Russian forces were chased out of Grozny by the rebels in the 1994-96 war. Although the rebels were forced out in 1999 in a Russian offensive, the rebels still attack federal troops almost daily.

Russian tanks remain a target for the rebel attacks -- a dozen such attacks occurred over a 24-hour period this weekend.

The Kremlin has offered increased protection for pro-Moscow local Chechen officials. Still, a number of them have been found murdered in recent months.

Russia has taken similar extreme security precautions on previous anniversaries, but so far the predictions have gone unfulfilled.

Local officials said the blockade of Grozny was unnecessary and disruptive.

Ruslan Martagov, chief of the Grozny mayor's press service told Interfax: "Closure of the city ... does invaluable service to militants by boosting their status."

One Russian soldier was killed and two wounded by the Chechen rebel attacks over the weekend, an official told The Associate Press.

Another two soldiers were killed and two were wounded when their vehicles detonated land mines, the official in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Despite having controlled Chechnya for months, Russian forces have been unable to stop attacks by small bands of rebels.






RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITES:
• Chechen Republic Online
• Russian Ministry of Defence

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