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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 19:40 GMT

World: Europe

Russian troops pour into Chechnya

Russian forces are advancing towards Grozny

Thousands of Russian troops are pouring into Chechnya for a threatened offensive on the capital, Grozny, as international condemnation of Russia's military campaign intensifies.

European Union foreign ministers in Brussels condemned Russia's "disproportionate and indiscriminate" use of force in Chechnya and urged Moscow to seek a negotiated settlement.

Battle for the Caucasus
President Boris Yeltsin meanwhile has decided to go in person to a key European summit later this week to deliver a message of defiance to critics of Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic.

The BBC's Mike Williams:"For the Chechen refugees who watch them pass it is a terrible sight"
Mr Yeltsin will tell world leaders at the meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe that western states "have no right to blame Russia for destroying bandits and terrorists on its territory," Interfax quoted him as saying.

BBC correspondent Mike Williams witnessed thousands of Russian troops in hundreds of military vehicles crossing from Ingushetia into Chechnya on Monday.

Click here to see a map of the region

He said he saw tanks, armoured personnel carriers and scores of Grad multiple rocket systems on the move. The soldiers told him that they were heading for Grozny.

Grozny offensive

Russian commanders said at the weekend they were preparing to mount a ground assault on the Chechen capital, following weeks of devastating air raids.

Correspondents said rebel positions across Chechnya came under renewed bombardment at the weekend.

Russian army officials said their aircraft had flown some 70 missions on Sunday.

The BBC's Peter Biles: "There is little help for those who are most defenceless"
The text of the European ministers' resolution - put forward by Germany, the UK and the Netherlands - calls on Moscow to begin peace talks with Chechen leaders.

It also demands that humanitarian organisations be given access to the area to help the estimated 200,000 refugees who have fled the fighting.

The EU's foreign affairs representative, Javier Solana, told German daily Tagesspiegel: "We are trying to convince (the Russian authorities) they should scale down operations and work towards a political solution because the conflict cannot be resolved militarily."

[ image: Russian troops renew bombardment of Chechen positions]
Russian troops renew bombardment of Chechen positions
However Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will try to persuade the international community of the need to press on with its armed campaign.

In an interview broadcast on Russian television, Mr Putin said the offensive aimed at clearing "international terrorists" out of Chechnya would not slow in the face of criticism from the West.

He said some Western leaders were stuck in a Cold War anti-Russian mindset.

"So we have to work insistently, consistently and patiently with these people in explaining the Russian Federation's position."

Despite western media reports of pitiful conditions for refugees, Russia denies there is any humanitarian crisis.

Military advance

The Russians have already moved into Chechnya's second-largest town, Gudermes. This was described by Mr Putin as a decisive turning point in the Russian campaign.

A senior Russian commander said the situation in Gudermes was now peaceful and that the rebels have been driven out.

A night-time curfew had been imposed, and local residents warned that anyone violating it would be shot on sight.

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