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    MOSCOW, January 5th, 2004 (RIA Novosti correspondent) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has conferred awards on servicemen of special units of the Russian Defence Ministry who carried out the operation to eliminate a militant gang in Daghestan (a republic in the North Caucasus, bordering on Chechnya).

    "You have demonstrated again that our Armed Forces, special units and law-enforcement bodies can pull together, professionally and effectively," the president said to the awarded servicemen.

    "This is an essential contribution to constitutional order in our country, in the North Caucasus and a serious investment of effort in the fight against international terrorism," Putin stressed congratulating the warriors on the successful completion of the operation.

    49 privates, first sergeants, sergeants and officers received state awards from the president.

    A gang of 37 militants, including foreign mercenaries, was discovered in Daghestan on December 15th. Operating at the height of over 2,500 metres under adverse weather conditions, the special units eliminated the terrorists and took three militants hostage. Three servicemen died.

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