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Ruslan Gelayev may be dead
Ruslan Gelayev, the field commander of one of the largest Chechen rebel formations, was reportedly killed in the Dagestani highlands during an operation by the Russian military in the Tsuntinsky district on 15 December 2003, a top prosecutor from the republic Mirzabala Mirzabalayev told ITAR-TASS on Monday. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, denied the report. Earlier, the internal republic’s authorities reported that five of the Chechen rebels who broke into Dagestan in mid-December were detained. According to Mirzabalayev, testimonies made by those detainees confirm the reports of Ruslan Gelayev’s death. Judging by the rebels’ statements, the group that clashed with Dagestani border troops in mid-December, killing 9 guards, was headed by none other than Gelayev himself. All five rebels are currently being held in custody at the Makhachkala remand prison. Authorities refuse to disclose their names citing the interests of the investigation. The prisoners testified that the rebel group that crossed into Dagestan in mid-December was about 40-strong. Six militants were killed in an avalanche and three more fell off a cliff. Not less than 20 rebels were killed in federal air strikes. To recap, in the early hours of 15 December a group of rebels entered the mountainous Tsunti District of Dagestan and seized a local hospital. Russian border guards who pursued the intruders were later ambushed by the rebels. Nine of them were killed in the clash, including the head of the local frontier post. Judging by the accounts of the detained rebels, their group was heading from Chechnya to Georgia. Faced with resistance on the part of the Russian border troops, the bandits broke into several smaller groups and tried to hide in the highlands but were encircled by federal forces. During the operation 3 Russian soldiers were killed. On 30 December Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to President Putin that the anti-rebel operation in Dagestan had been successfully completed. According to Ivanov, there were 36 militants in the group, including several Arab mercenaries. President Putin decorated 49 military personnel on Monday for their part in the operation. Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky, however, did not confirm the reports about the death of Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev in Dagestan. ''There is no information about the death of Ruslan Gelayev in criminal case materials or the testimony of the detained rebels,'' Fridinsky told Interfax on Monday. The operational headquarters in charge of the anti-rebel operation in the Northern Caucasus told Interfax: ''We have no information which could lead to the conclusion that the field commander Gelayev has been eliminated on the territory of Dagestan.'' At the same time a spokesman said reports of Gelayev’s alleged death are currently being verified. Ruslan Gelayev, one of the most notorious Chechen warlords, fought on the side of the separatists for nearly a decade. During the first military campaign in Chechnya (1994-1996) he headed rebel units in western Chechnya. In March 1996 his units raided Grozny, the Chechen capital. In April 1997 Gelayev was appointed a vice-prime minister in Aslan Maskhadov’s government and the following year he was appointed defence minister. In January-February 2000, after federal troops recaptured Grozny, Gelayev took refuge in the highlands. On 6 March of the same year his 1000-strong unit seized the village of Komsomolskoye. Federal forces encircled the village and routed the rebels. On 14 March Gelayev broke out of the encirclement and fled. In summer 2002 Gelayev-led units tried to cross into Chechnya from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. His men killed 8 Russian border guards in the Kodori Gorge. In September Gelayev’s group entered Ingushetia from Georgia. 21 Russian servicemen were killed in clashes near the village of Galashki.
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