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Saturday, November 13, 1999 Published at 13:35 GMT

World: Europe

Russia intensifies Chechnya offensive

Russian army steps up campaign in the face of international condemnation

The Russian offensive in Chechnya has been stepped up, with Russian news agencies reporting new attacks by federal troops and artillery near the Chechen capital Grozny.

Battle for the Caucasus
The reports say that these were backed up by a record 180 air raids over the past 24 hours, and that up to 200 Chechen rebels were killed.

Chechen Health Minister Umar Khanbiyev said on Saturday that "no less than 100" people were killed in Friday's air strikes.

There is no indication yet that troops are attacking Grozny itself.

The BBC's Peter Biles: "Russian appears unmoved by international condemnation."
But new assaults were launched against the village of Bamut and on the outskirts of the town of Argun in eastern Chechnya, while mopping-up continued in Gudermes, which fell to the Russians on Friday.

The Russian Security council is meeting today to discuss the war in Chechnya, apparently unmoved by international condemnation over its prosecution of the war.

Russia regards the crisis as an internal affair and appears intent on pursuing its military objectives.

UN condemnation

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has sharply criticised Moscow's military action in Chechnya, saying it has gone far beyond its original aims.

In some of his strongest comments so far on Russia's seven-week-long offensive, Mr Annan said that he was "disturbed to see that the scope of the military offensive in Chechnya. . . has caused great suffering and high casualties to civilians, including the elderly and women and children."

[ image: 200,000 refugees are estimated to have fled the fighting]
200,000 refugees are estimated to have fled the fighting
Russia should "take immediate steps to protect the civilian population from further suffering," he added.

He also urged Russia's leaders to seek a long-term political solution to the conflict.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin telephoned Mr Annan to assure him that restoring peace was the only aim.

About 200,000 refugees have fled the fighting into neighbouring Ingushetia, where many are living in desperate conditions as winter begins to bite.

Click here to see a map of the region

Russia says its campaign in Chechnya is aimed at eliminating Islamic rebels based in the breakaway republic. It blames them for incursions into Dagestan and bomb attacks on Russian apartment blocks that have left about 300 people dead.

The intensity of the conflict in Chechnya and the plight of the civilian population has led to an increasing amount of international attention.

Chechnya is expected to be the main talking point at a summit in Istanbul next week of the European security organisation, the OSCE.

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