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Saturday, November 13, 1999 Published at 20:26 GMT

World: Europe

Chechnya campaign at 'turning point'

Intensifying Russian campaign brings about a turning piont

A decisive turning point has been reached in the Russian campaign in Chechnya, according to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Battle for the Caucasus
"Since yesterday a fundamental change has taken place in the republic," Mr Putin said.

The surrender of the town of Gudermes to the Russians signalled this change, according to Mr Putin. He said that the Chechen people were now supporting the Russian campaign.

Reports say that federal troops have been advancing both to the east and west of the Chechen capital, Grozny, after the most intense air raids so far.

The Chechen Health Minister Umar Khanbiyev said on Saturday that "not less than 100" people were killed in Friday's air strikes.

BBC News' Peter Biles: Russians stepping up offensive in Chechnya
There is no indication yet that troops are attacking Grozny itself.

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.

No bowing to pressure

Vlaldimir Putin's comments came after a meeting of the Russian Security Council.

[ image: Vladimir Putin: Robust defence of Russian policy]
Vladimir Putin: Robust defence of Russian policy

The prime minister once again refused to consider negotiations with the Chechen leadership, accusing them of being "bandits and terrorists."

Responding to criticism, Mr Putin defended the Russian campaign in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Russia is prepared for a political settlement to the Chechen problem, but not with those who have posed (for pictures) over the corpses of our citizens," Putin's press secretary quoted him as telling the secretary general.

Mr Annan, had sharply criticised Moscow's military action in Chechnya, saying it has gone far beyond its original aims.

[ image: 200,000 refugees are estimated to have fled the fighting]
200,000 refugees are estimated to have fled the fighting
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."

Russia should "take immediate steps to protect the civilian population from further suffering," he added.

Deepening refugee crisis

The BBC's Tony Smith: "Russia is deaf to the pleas of the international community"
A BBC correspondent at the Chechen border, Orla Guerin, reports that thousands of refugees are continuing to stream across the border into Ingushetia.

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "Russia seems determined to fight to the end even if Chechnya is destroyed".
In the space of a few hours forty buses arrived. There was a rush to get out before it's too late.

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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