Rebels say they're out of Dagestan; Russia says war continues
August 23, 1999
From Correspondent Steve Harrigan
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Muslim militants said Monday they have retreated from Dagestan, where they had battled Russian troops for two weeks in hopes of establishing an Islamic state. But Russia said the fighting in the province continued.
A rebel spokesman in Grozny, the capital of neighboring Chechnya, said Chechen guerrilla commander Shamil Basayev ordered his fighters out of the last towns they held in Dagestan. The spokesman said Basayev's troops had crossed back into Chechnya.
But in Moscow, Russia's military said there was no sign of a rebel withdrawal from Dagestan, located in the northern Caucasus, and heavy fighting continued Monday. Military officials said about 100 rebels remained trapped in one Dagestani village.
Chechen-led rebels in mostly Muslim Dagestan declared it an independent Islamic state two weeks ago. The rebellion is Russia's most serious internal conflict since its disastrous 1994-1996 war in Chechnya.
The rebels' announcement came on the eve of a self-imposed deadline set by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for crushing the uprising. Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared Monday that "Dagestan is now our number one priority."
Yeltsin met Monday with Dagestan's regional leader, Magomedali Magomedov, and praised "the courage and heroism" of Dagestani volunteers who have fought alongside Russian troops.
Russian pilots flew 80 bombing raids Sunday, and military officials said 140 Islamic guerrillas died in those raids: The rebels sneered at that account, calling it "self- hypnosis."
Fighting broke out August 7, when Islamic guerrillas crossed into Dagestan from Chechnya and seized a number of villages. The rebels were believed to have about 1,200 fighters in Dagestan. The militants also draw recruits from Muslims from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
While still considered part of Russia, Chechnya effectively won independence in that war. Putin has threatened to strike Dagestani rebel bases in Chechnya, leading to fears of a renewed conflict there.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Russian Muslim leader condemns Dagestan uprising
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