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Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT

World: Europe

Freezing Chechens plead for help

Russian troops are continuing their advance on Chechnya's main towns

Human rights investigators from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have been mobbed by Chechen refugees at a camp in neighbouring Ingushetia.

Battle for the Caucasus
The delegation led by Kim Traavik - representative of the Norwegian foreign minister and current OSCE President Knut Vollebaek - was visiting the border camp where thousands of Chechen women and children are huddled in freezing temperatures.

While about 50 refugees mobbed the investigators, pleading for help, Russian artillery fire could be heard from inside Chechnya.

The BBC's Ben Brown: "There is no end in sight to the war"
"They are killing us, we are cold, help us," the refugees cried.

Eight-thousand refugees live in the Sleptsovsk camp which is covered in deep snow with temperatures well below freezing.

Mr Traavik said that the OSCE intended to put forward a peace initiative to Moscow to end the two-month-old conflict.

[ image:  ]
The organisation would do everything in its power "to bring peace to Chechnya", he added.

The team hopes to enter Chechnya briefly on Thursday. Ambassador Traavik said the OSCE wanted to assess the situation for itself, but he was disturbed by the television images he has seen from inside the republic.

MSF spokesperson Frances Stevenson: "The risk of going in is far too high"
During the 1994 -96 conflict, the OSCE was the only mediator between Moscow and the breakaway republic.

A spokesperson for the humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC that its workers would not go into Chechnya.

Click here to see a map of the region

"The risk is far too high," said Frances Stevenson. "We do not want our people to come back in body bags."

All out war threat

Russia is showing no sign of ending its campaign. The commander of the Russian forces in the region, General Viktor Kazantsev, told the daily newspaper Trud that, if ordered to, he would flatten Chechnya with bombs in a week.

The BBC's Peter Biles: "Moscow insists there is no humanitarian crisis"
But he said the military campaign could drag on for years.

"Let's say the president tells me: 'Kazantsev, I introduce martial law in Chechnya.' Then I will finish the war in a week.

"I will flatten the whole place with bombs," he said.

"They would all come running to me with white flags. That is - those still alive.... But that would be a war. What I am conducting is a counter-terrorist operation," he told the paper.

Overnight attacks

Russian artillery was active outside the village of Geek 15 km (9 miles) southwest of Grozny on Tuesday night, but reports on Wednesday morning said it was quiet near the capital.

[ image: Refugees are still trying to escape in freezing temperatures]
Refugees are still trying to escape in freezing temperatures
Russian troops now occupy the hills around Grozny, although their commanders have made conflicting statements on whether they intend to seize the city.

The few citizens that are still in Grozny are hiding in cellars during the nightly bombing raids.

"We are all just so tired. But somebody is profiting from this war," one market trader told Reuters news agency.

Russian troops have also surrounded Chechnya's second city, Gudermes, to the east.

Borders tightened

[ image: The Caucasus is under thick snow]
The Caucasus is under thick snow
One of Chechnya's neighbours, Georgia, has responded to a request from Russia to tighten its border controls.

The Georgian authorities have stopped issuing visas to citizens of 21 countries, most of them Arab and Islamic, including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The head of the Georgian border guards, Valeri Chkheidze, said the decision was being taken against countries which were potential suppliers of arms and men to Chechen militants.

On several occasions, Russia had complained that weapons were entering Chechnya through Georgia.

[ image:  ]

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