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Russian Forces to Remain in Chechnya

Russia's Defense Minister says his forces will remain in Chechnya until rebel leaders and their accomplices are "eliminated." The minister's pledge appears to confirm fears the conflict is far from over.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says it would be inappropriate and premature to consider withdrawing Russian forces from Chechnya until what he called the terrorist threat is contained, or at the very least, reduced.

Mr. Ivanov gave no indication how long that might take or what exactly would constitute a reduction in the threat.

He said only that he believed it was too soon to speak of a military withdrawal from Chechnya given the situation at the moment, an apparent reference to last month's hostage-taking in Moscow by Chechen militants.

On Sunday, Mr. Ivanov suspended a long-promised reduction in the number of Russian troops in the break-away republic, instead announcing the start of another large-scale military campaign.

The defense chief defended the operation, saying intelligence reports show the Chechens are planning what he called "new acts of terror" in Chechnya and elsewhere.

More than 100 people died in last month's siege at the theatre in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed confidence that those responsible for planning and carrying out the attack will be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya says President Putin assured him during a meeting late Tuesday that the increased Russian military operations will target Chechen rebels, and not the population at large.

The official, Akhmad Kadyrov, said he requested the meeting with Mr. Putin because of concern over the increased blockading of cities and search and seize operations.

Chechen civilians have complained of harsh treatment at the hands of Russian troops who, in turn, accuse the civilians of helping the Chechen rebels.