Fighting continues in the breakaway region of Chechnya, just a few days after a deadline set by Russian President Vladimir Putin for rebels to turn in their weapons.
Russian news agencies report that government forces launched a series of attacks against Chechen rebels fighting in the southern Caucasus region on Sunday. The news comes one day after rebels attacked Russian troops in a number of towns in Chechnya on Saturday.
The Russian news media also reported that Russian forces had killed a top intelligence officer, Abu Yakub, who was reported to have worked for one of the top Chechen leaders, a man known as Khattab.
Sunday's attacks were the first by the Russian military since President Putin last Monday gave Chechen rebels an ultimatum to lay down their arms. The Russian president said during a television address that the rebels had 72 hours to turn in their weapons. The deadline passed last Thursday evening but there were few reports of Chechen rebels laying down their arms.
Mr. Putin has repeatedly said rebels in Chechnya are radical Islamic terrorists and no different than the international terrorist organizations accused by U.S. authorities of attacking Washington and New York on September 11.
On Friday, it was reported that an aide to the leader of the Chechen rebels, Aslan Maskhadov, talked with Mr. Putin's special envoy to Chechnya, Viktor Kazantsev. The two reportedly discussed ways to put an end to the latest round of fighting that has gone on for more than two years.
The Russian military invaded Chechnya over two years ago after a series of apartment bombings in Russia that Moscow blamed on Chechen rebels and also because of incursions by Chechen rebels into the neighboring republic of Dagestan.
Prior to this latest campaign, Russian troops fought a bloody war in Chechnya between 1994 and 1996 in which tens of thousands were killed. A treaty to end that round of fighting was signed in August of 1996.
The Russian military has repeatedly said that it has the situation in Chechnya under control, but Russian soldiers, civilians and Chechen rebels die almost daily as fighting continues. Human rights organizations have accused the Russian military of harassing and torturing innocent civilians in Chechnya.