MOSCOW -- Armed supporters and opponents of maverick Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev were locked in a tense standoff Thursday in an opposition stronghold in the southern Russian province of Chechenya, reports from the region said.
A column of about 70 loyalist troops advancing into the opposition- held Nadterechny region in an apparent punitive expedition were surrounded and halted by anti-Dudayev forces near the settlement of Gorogorsk, 1,245 miles south of Moscow in the Caucasus Mountains.
Nadterechny was the only one of three opposition-dominated regions to hold a June 5 referendum on confidence in Dudayev's rule organized by his opponents in the regional legislature.
The vote was suppressed by the government elsewhere in the mountainous province, except in Nadterechny where it produced a 98 percent vote against the Chechen president.
But in the Chechen capital Grozny plans to hold the referendum ended in bloodshed on the eve of the vote when Dudayev ordered the storming of the opposition's temporary headquarters. The violent clampdown left eight dead and 18 wounded.
Chechenya has been engulfed in an increasingly violent conflict between Dudayev, a former air force general who led Chechenya to declare independence from Russia in late 1991, and his opponents in the legislature since the Chechen leader declared presidential rule in April.
One opposition leader warned that any act of agression by the pro- Dudayev troops would prompt retaliation from opposition forces in Chechen regions, who would come 'with guns in their hands to fight against the anti-people Dudayev regime,' Interfax said.
A spokesman for the Nadterechny authorities said opposition forces had set off for Gorogorsk in response to news of armed convoys advancing towards the district.
Dudayev's supporters, however, denied any intention of attacking the anti-Dudayev district and said the column of presidential guards armed with heavy armor was just 'a routine control raid.'
The Russian Parliament condemned the what it said were Dudayev's 'strong-arm tactics' in suppressing the referendum and accused him of 'severe violations of human rights.'