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Russia's Outlaw Republic Readies for Guerrilla War

Officials rush to negotiate as Russian troops mass on Chechen border

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RUSSIAN troops massed over the weekend on the borders of the rebel region of Chechnya, and citizens there prepared for an invasion. But signs on both sides indicate that a peaceful solution to the crisis might be possible.

``A large number of Russian troops, units, and detachments is massing in the North Caucasus to carry out a possible operation to eliminate bandit groups,'' said Sergei Gryzunov, spokesman for a special unit Moscow has set up to deal with the Chechen crisis.

In Grozny, capital of the breakaway republic, an official said that the Chechen government was preparing guerrilla resistance to any Russian intervention.

Chechens, long practiced in the arts of clan warfare, battled Russian domination for a century until 1864 and are feared throughout the nation for their ferocity. Men were setting up secret mountain hideouts ``with enough food, ammunition, and weapons for a year,'' said Chechen official Movladi Udugov.

But Dzhokhar Dudayev, the self-declared president of Chechnya, freed two captured Russian servicemen on Saturday, and hinted that he might be ready to let another 19 go as well.

``We understand the nature of the situation that has taken shape and will take decisions that meet the interests of the Chechen Republic and are based on the principles of clemency,'' Mr. Dudayev told the Interfax news agency.

At the same time spokesman Gryzunov said that the troops gathering on the Chechen frontier would be used only ``if all political and compromise options available today are exhausted.''

Russian President Boris Yeltsin had threatened last Tuesday to use ``all the forces and means at the disposal of the state'' to impose a state of emergency in Chechnya if fighting did not stop there within 48 hours.

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