MOSCOW: Following President Yeltsin's announcement midnight Sunday that Russia will halt combat operations in Chechnya, separatist Chechen rebels attacked a column of federal troops, killing 28 Russian soldiers and wounding 75. Yeltsin said he planned to end large scale military operations in Chechnya and to begin preparations for democratic elections in the breakaway region. "On the 31st of March at midnight, combat operations on the territory of Chechnya will cease and multi-stage withdrawal of federal troops from calm regions to administrative borders will start," Yeltsin said in a speech on Russian television. But, he added, during the troop withdrawal, Russian forces will continue to respond to all terrorist acts. Yeltsin's peace plan falls short of meeting rebel leader Jokhar Dudayev's main demands of full independence for Chechnya and complete withdrawal of Russian troops. The Kremlin suggested a similar strategy in January 1995, but the plan failed when peace talks dissolved and fighting resumed. Now, a conclusion to the bloody conflict may be crucial to Yeltsin's chances for re-election in June. Yeltsin's Communist opponent, Gennady Zyuganov, offered a blueprint for ending the unpopular war on Saturday, in which he also called for troop withdrawal from certain regions. "The bottom line," says TIME's Sally Donnelly, "is that this is an interesting political move designed to show Yeltsin is concerned about the Chechen problem, but I seriously doubt it will have any significant impact on the ground in Chechnya."