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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 14:05 GMT

World: Europe

Chechen town falls without a fight

Chechens queue for food in a refugee camp

Russian troops have continued their push into the breakaway republic of Chechnya, taking another key town without a shot being fired.

Battle for the Caucasus
Achkhoi-Martan, near the border with Ingushetia, was the second major Chechen town to invite Russian troops in.

Last week, federal forces entered Chechnya's second city, Gudermes, without opposition.

As in Gudermes, local officials were told they would be spared bombing and shelling if they ensured no guerrillas were hiding in the town.

Russia's NTV showed General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of Russia's forces in western Chechnya, addressing residents in the town square.

Click here to see a map of the region

The BBC's Mike Williams: Rebels threaten to continue to wage a low level war
"Before you stands a general who is tired of fighting. Let us live together in peace," he said, adding that local people should hand over any weapons without fear of reprisals.

Residents gave up a varied array of weaponry including machine guns and grenade launchers.

Russian troops had surrounded Achkhoi-Martan for days as they pressed towards the Chechen heartland that lies south of the capital, Grozny.

The western stronghold of Bamut, which symbolised Grozny's struggle for independence in the 1994-96 war, was stormed on Wednesday, a day after troops took control of neighbouring Novy-Sharoi. However, a Russian general said on Thursday that fighting was still continuing there.

UN aid pledge

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, has promised to send more aid to the some 200,000 Chechen civilians who have fled the fighting in their homeland.

[ image: Tents go up in a refugee camp near camp near Sleptsovskaya]
Tents go up in a refugee camp near camp near Sleptsovskaya
Correspondents say Russian leaders have agreed to allow UNHCR aid workers access to the refugees and given permission for them to deliver supplies.

Mrs Ogata went to Moscow after visiting refugees in Ingushetia.

She said 200 tents would be shipped to refugee camps next week, and Ingush families hosting refugees would receive supplies.

"We will try to see that we can bring in some assistance, but also try to see how much these civilians can be exempt from this terrible fate that they are exposed to," Mrs Ogata said.

A local doctor, Bashir Bogatyrov, told Mrs Ogata during her field trip that he had treated many civilians with shrapnel wounds from Russian bombs and shells.

OSCE to intervene

Moscow has also agreed to a European security document that includes a call for a political end to the conflict.

The new Charter for European Security was due to be signed at the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe summit in Istanbul on Friday.

The official signing had been thrown into doubt after President Boris Yeltsin insisted there would be no outside interference in Chechnya. He then returned to Moscow from the summit.

But following a series of delicate negotiations with Russian diplomats, Moscow agreed to give international organisations a political and humanitarian role in the Chechen conflict.

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