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Chechen Official Rips Media For Report Leader Is Dead

Chechen separatist officials issued strong denials April 30 that the successor to rebel chief Dzhokhar Dudayev had also been killed.

But Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev has not surfaced publicly, and the makeup of the rebel leadership and its post-Dudayev strategy remained the object of intense speculation among Russian officials.

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Rebel spokesmen claimed Mr. Yandarbiyev had escaped uninjured from an unspecified attack late April 28 or early April 29, blaming the confusion on the fact that one of his relatives or guards had died. "It's amazing with what ease some news media spread unverified reports," Vagap Tutakov, the separatists' representative in Moscow, told the Interfax news agency.

Mr. Tutakov said he had met personally with Yandarbiyev in Chechnya on April 29, after his reported death.

Tutakov also denied an ITAR-Tass report the previous day that said Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev had been named the rebels' new military chief. Mr. Basayev hijacked a Russian airliner in 1991 and led last year's rebel raid and hostage-taking in the Russian town of Budyonnovsk, and his promotion would dismay officials in Moscow.

Amid all the confusion over the rebel leadership, little new fighting was reported in Chechnya.

But rebel leaders, vowing revenge for Dudayev's death, have pledged to continue the fight for independence.

President Boris Yeltsin badly wants to somehow resolve the war before he seeks reelection June 16. He ordered his top military and security ministers on April 30 to take the "toughest measures" to avert any rebel provocations during Russia's May holidays.

Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Medvedev, said Yeltsin had met with his "power ministers" to discuss security precautions.

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At least 30,000 people are thought to have died since Yeltsin sent Russian troops into Chechnya in December 1994 to end its three years of self-declared independence.

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