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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 21:26 GMT

World: Europe

US warns Russia over Chechnya

Russian soldiers dig in around the besieged city of Gudermes

The United States has accused Russia of violating the Geneva Convention and other international agreements by using indiscriminate force in its offensive in Chechnya.

Battle for the Caucasus
Washington spoke out as Moscow sent reinforcements and intensified its bombardment of the breakaway republic's major cities.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said Russia's current military tactics were "not in keeping" with the Geneva Convention and commitments established by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which prohibit deliberate attacks on civilian populations.

BBC News' Jim Fish: Russians battering the Chechens from a safe distance
"The costs of this approach are too high - costs in humanitarian terms, damage to Russia's international reputation," he told reporters in Washington.

"The indiscriminate use of force and the impact of escalation on innocent civilians is a matter of deep concern to us."

But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov hit back, accusing the West of double standards in its approach to Chechnya.

He said that Western organisations were expressing concern about the the plight of refugees in Chechnya when they had not bothered to investigate conditions in Yugoslavia after months of bombing by Nato.

The BBC's State Department correspondent, Richard Lister, says it is the Clinton administration's strongest criticisms yet of the Russian Government.

Fears for civilians

Ann Clwyd MP chair of the Parliamentary human rights group: "We must get aid to the refugees"

Washington's comments come amid mounting international concern over the plight of Chechen civilians.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov sent letters over the weekend to US President Bill Clinton and other world leaders, urging them to use the opportunity of the forthcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul to help end the conflict.

On Monday, Pope John Paul, arriving on a visit to the former-Soviet republic of Georgia, made a plea for peace in the troubled Caucasus region.

Click here to see a map of the region

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."


But far from scaling down its offensive, Moscow is sending yet more tanks and troops to the republic.

The Russian military says they will be deployed around the capital, Grozny, and Chechnya's second largest city, Gudermes.

[ image: A woman falls unconscious waiting to cross into Ingushetia]
A woman falls unconscious waiting to cross into Ingushetia
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.

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.

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, east of the capital, and Bamut had also been targeted.

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

Escape from hell

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "Many are refugees for the second time"
Refugees arriving at the border with the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia have been giving consistent accounts of death and destruction caused by Russian troops.

The BBC's Orla Guerin, at the border crossing, says those arriving said they had escaped from hell.

[ image:  ]
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.

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

Russia says it sent its troops into Chechnya to attack Islamic rebels who invaded Dagestan and whom Moscow blames for apartment bombings in Russia that have killed nearly 300 people.

[ image:  ]

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