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Sunday, August 8, 1999 Published at 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Russia's fragile borders

Thousands of civilians and troops died in the 1994-1996 Chechen war

By BBC News Online's Kate Goldberg

Russia's bloody war with Chechnya ended three years ago, but violence continues to spill over its borders, threatening an already volatile region.

Author Dilip Hiro says frontier between Chechnya and Dagestan is not well-defined
Last week the Russian Interior Ministry released a gruesome film apparently showing Chechen rebels torturing Russian and foreign hostages.

In one scene an American missionary is seen being held down while a finger from his right hand is cut off. In another a Russian man has his head cut off with a long, sharp knife.

[ image:  ]
In a country where kidnappings have become an almost daily occurrence, power appears to have fallen to warlords who are fighting for a unified Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

Chechnya is nominally still part of Russia, pending final talks on its status.

But in reality, lawlessness is rife, and seems to be beyond the control of either the Russian or Chechen governments.

Russia hits back

With its economy devastated by the war, and the region awash with military hardware and well-trained fighters, Chechens have resorted to cross-border raids.

[ image: Chechnya's President Maskhadov has been the target of assassination attempts]
Chechnya's President Maskhadov has been the target of assassination attempts
Moscow's decision to crack down on the militants now could be interpreted as a political move, designed to deflect attention from problems at home.

But as attacks against Russian targets in Dagestan have increased in recent weeks, so too have calls for tough action.

Russian officials accuse Chechen warlords of giving armed support to radical Islamists in a bid to overthrow Dagestan's pro-Moscow administration of Magomedali Magomedov.

On Saturday, the Deputy Director of the Congress of Muslims in Dagestan and Chechnya, Movladi Udugov, warned that the situation in the region was becoming increasingly unstable and "may explode at any moment".

Alexander Lebed, the former Russian general who negotiated the end of the Chechen war, urged the authorities to send troops to quell the unrest.

He also warned that if matters are not resolved imminently, the Kremlin could declare a state of emergency.

This could have political repercussions in Moscow, and threaten December's parliamentary elections, in which President Yeltsin is vying with his rivals for control of the country's legislature.

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