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Jonathan Charles on the Chechen border
"Slowly but surely the Russian army is moving forward"
 real 28k

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Troops will soon start a door-to-door probe deeper into the city"
 real 28k

Sunday, 26 December, 1999, 23:53 GMT
Russians advance into Grozny

Russian troops Russian troops head towards Grozny

Russian troops continued a battle to take control of the Chechen capital Grozny on Sunday.

Battle for the Caucasus
According to Russian television reports they reached a strategically important square near the city centre.

Their strategy is to advance cautiously, pulling back after coming under fire from rebels.

"The Russians are retreating every time they get into a fight," a correspondent for the French news agency, AFP, reported from the front line.

Artillery backup

A BBC correspondent says that once the Russian troops move away, artillery opens fire to crush the rebel positions.

About 100,000 Russian troops are in the Grozny region About 100,000 Russian troops are in the Grozny area
According to Russian Public Television (ORT) they reached Minutka square, which lies a few minutes away from the centre and was the scene of heavy battles during the conflict of 1994-96.

ORT said the rebels had ceded some of the districts without fighting, but had left them heavily mined.

"They offer fierce resistance only on strategically important squares and street crossings," the correspondent said.

The leader of Chechen paramilitaries loyal to Moscow, Beslan Gantemirov, said his forces had reached another landmark near the city-centre, the newspaper printing press, Dom Pechati.

Russian sources say door-to-door sweeps to clear rebels from some areas of the city have already begun.

Fleeing refugees have also reported fierce firefights, and a relentless artillery bombardment.

Click here to see a map of Grozny and surrounding areas

"The shelling was the heaviest yet," said Ali Alpayev, 50, who arrived at the Ingush border after escaping from the besieged city during a brief lull in the fighting.

"There was fighting in the centre of the town and around the Chernorechiye district all day," he said as he clambered off a battered, mud-splattered bus.

Russian objectives

On Saturday, Russian commanders announced an operation to capture the city, after two weeks of skirmishes in the outskirts.

They are advancing from four directions, and are reported to have made most progress in the south and east.

Russia's three-stage assault
1. Special forces penetrate the city
2. Troops take key points
3. Rebel troops destroyed
AFP's correspondent reported that 2,000 Russian troops had entered the city, out of the 100,000 camped nearby.

He said they had left their armour behind, avoiding the mistake made by Russian forces attempting to take the city in the 1994-96 conflict, when Chechen guerrillas were able to destroy whole columns of Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers with rocket-propelled grenades.

Failed talks

Earlier Russian and Chechen representatives met to discuss the fate of civilians trapped in the besieged city.

The meeting between Russian Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoygu and a spokesman for the Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov is said to have produced no workable plan on how to save the civilians.

Chechen refugees watch Russian troops entering Chechnya Chechen refugees watch Russian troops entering Chechnya
A BBC correspondent on the Chechen border says any evacuation would require a ceasefire, which he says appears unlikely.

The commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev said: "Nothing terrible is happening in Grozny, all that's going on is a continuation of the operation to free the city of bandits."

He refused to estimate how long the operation would take. Earlier Russian estimates have varied between a few days and two weeks.

Russian soldiers are at a disadvantage in street-to-street fighting because the rebels know the layout of the ruined city and have a network of trenches.

Pro-Moscow Chechens

The Russian advance is said to be spearheaded by pro-Moscow Chechen militias, who also know the city. However, there are not many of them, and in the last conflict they proved to be no match for the Chechen rebel units.

Correspondents say Russia may exaggerate the role played by the militias, for public relations purposes.

Russian sources put the size of the Chechen force in the city between 1,500 and 5,000, divided into operating units of 15-20.

Grozny is the last rebel stronghold in Chechnya's northern lowlands. But thousands of militants have redeployed to the southern mountains.

According to the Russian media the fighting in the city is seen by the Russian generals as a 'side-show' to the longer task of rooting out rebel bases in the south.

The army says it has closed off the republic's southern border to stop rebels escaping.

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See also:
26 Dec 99 |  Europe
A Chechen view of Russia's war
24 Oct 99 |  Europe
The first bloody battle for Grozny
10 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Danger ahead for Russia's military
26 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny evacuation talks fail
24 Dec 99 |  Europe
In pictures: Chechen conflict
23 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia ignores warning on Chechnya
22 Dec 99 |  Europe
New evidence of Chechen massacre
21 Dec 99 |  Europe
UN returns to help Chechens

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