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VIOLATIONS MAR RUSSIA'S TRUCE WITH CHECHNYA

Russia's military truce with the rebel Chechens looked shaky Thursday after several cease-fire violations were reported overnight in the war-torn territory.

Russian and Chechen negotiators resumed talks Thursday, but had to concentrate on military issues before starting consultations on the formation of a transitional government for Chechnya, Russian television reported.Two Russian soldiers were wounded by Chechen shellfire late Wednesday, the Interfax news agency said.

Another news agency, ITAR-Tass, reported a heavy firefight around the western Chechen village of Assinovskaya and said a group of Chechen fighters trying to smuggle arms into the territory were surrounded by Russian troops in the hills of neighboring Dagestan.

The continued fighting cast doubt over the military accord struck Sunday between Russian and Chechen forces to end the nearly eight-month war, especially the Chechen leadership's control over its ragged forces ranged across the Chechen foothills.

Chechen commander Aslan Maskhadov had ordered his men to cease all military action from midnight Tuesday.

Russia sent thousands of heavily armed troops into Chechnya last December to end the territory's three years of self-proclaimed independence.

Negotiations to end the war, which has left an estimated 40,000 people dead, began after Chechen rebels took about 2,000 people hostage in the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk in June.

The Chechens made major concessions to Moscow by agreeing to lay down their arms before the territory's political status was settled. They also approved the continued stationing of Russian motorized infantry and armed Interior Ministry units in Chechnya.

Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev approved the military accord after several days of hesitation, but sacked his chief negotiator, Usman Imayev, for making too many concessions. The ouster has further strained relations between the Russians and Chechens.

Analysts predicted some Chechen units would refuse to honor the accord, giving Moscow an excuse to slow its promised troop withdrawal.

However, the huge cost of the war and heavy military casualties - officially, 1,800 Russian soldiers have been killed - have also put pressure on the Russian government to end the unpopular conflict.