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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 16:08 GMT

World: Europe

Russian troops pour into Chechnya

Russian soldiers dig in around the besieged city of Gudermes

Russian reinforcements are on their way to Chechnya as the bombardment of the breakaway republic's major cities intensifies.

Battle for the Caucasus
Russian warplanes and artillery on Monday reportedly carried out their heaviest attack for days on the increasingly deserted Chechen capital, Grozny, pounding the city centre and the Zavodsky district to the southwest.

The BBC's Andrew Harding: "Russian forces keep up their endless bombardments"
Civilian casualties continue to be reported. An AFP news agency reporter said at least three women had been killed when T-80 Russian tanks opened fire on a convoy of cars travelling towards the capital near the village of Akhan Kala.

Attack planes flew about 30 missions in the 24 hours to Monday morning, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. It said the second city, Gudermes, and Bamut had also been targeted.

Extra Russian Interior Ministry infantry, backed by tanks and artillery, are reported to be arriving in neighbouring Dagestan.

The reinforcements are expected to be sent to Gudermes, which Russian forces have been shelling for several weeks.

Escape from hell

Refugees arriving at the border with Ingushetia have been giving consistent accounts of death and destruction caused by Russian troops.

[ image: A woman falls unconscious waiting to cross into Ingushetia]
A woman falls unconscious waiting to cross into Ingushetia
The BBC's Orla Guerin, at the border crossing, says those arriving said they had escaped from hell.

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "Many are refugees for the second time"
Refugees say people are being killed as they try to flee the Russian bombardment, but Russia insists its forces are trying to avoid civilian casualties.

Several hundred people queued to return to Chechnya on Monday. Many said they were hoping to rescue family members still trapped by the fighting.

Click here to see a map of the region

Orla Guerin in Ingushetia: Refugees tell of indiscriminate use of force
One woman said she was going back to stay, preferring to risk her life than live in miserable conditions in Ingushetia as a refugee.

Russian officials say those choosing to return will be given safe passage to the northern part of the rebel republic, which is under Moscow's control.

An estimated 200,000 refugees have fled to Ingushetia, where aid agencies and Russian authorities are struggling to provide food and shelter.

Basayev warning

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, regarded as Russia's most wanted man, has warned that the fighting will get worse.

[ image: Russian soldiers have also suffered injuries]
Russian soldiers have also suffered injuries
"The real battles have not yet begun," he said in a videotaped message obtained by Reuters news agency.

Speaking from the streets of Grozny, with bombs exploding in the distance, he said: "The flatlands, only a few big open spaces, is all that is left for the Russians."

However, referring to the northern part of Chechnya already seized by Russians troops, he said: "There are places where we can't get up to them, because they have so much armour."

Pope's peace plea

Pope John Paul, arriving in the former-Soviet republic of Georgia for a two-day visit on Monday, made a plea for peace in the region.

[ image:  ]
In an apparent reference to the war in Chechnya, he said: "The task now is to stabilise peace throughout the region to promote harmony and co-operation."

The Pope's comments come one day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dismissed attempts by Chechen President Aslam Maskhadov to enlist international help to start peace talks.

President Maskhadov sent letters over the weekend to US President Bill Clinton and other world leaders, urging them to use the opportunity of the forthcoming summit of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ankara to help end the conflict.

But Mr Putin, whose popularity ratings have soared during the military campaign, told the Interfax news agency on Sunday: "Maskhadov can talk to whoever he wants, even the Pope.

"As long as he supports terrorists, there is little chance anyone will agree to talk to him," he said.

[ image:  ]

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