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Wednesday, 5 January, 2000, 15:03 GMT
Russian soldiers admit Grozny losses

Soldiers Russian troops are being harried by Chechen counter-attacks

Russian troops attempting to capture the Chechen capital, Grozny, are being thwarted by stiff resistance from Chechen rebels, Russian soldiers say.

Reports of Russian setbacks came as Chechnya's President, Aslan Maskhadov, appealed for a ceasefire to allow observers to investigate allegations that chemical weapons are being used in the conflict.

Elite Russian troops attacking the city are taking heavy casualties, according to wounded soldiers evacuated from Grozny.

They said Chechen fighters had launched counter-attacks and broken through Russian lines in at least two places.

Badly mauled

One unit of special forces troops had almost been destroyed they said. Of 100 men, only eight had survived and most of the unit's armour had been lost.

Independent confirmation of these reports is impossible to come by, but our correspondents say there is little doubt that the fighting is fierce and Russian troops are sustaining serious losses.

President Maskhadov President Maskhadov has appealed for a truce
The BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the battles have reinforced a lesson that Russian commanders know only too well - poorly trained Russian infantry are no match in small-unit engagements for the well-motivated and battle-hardened Chechen fighters.

If the Russian generals are to avoid a bloody casualty list they must continue to engage the Chechens at a distance, but such an approach is not going to bring the conflict to a tidy end.

Heavy fog

The Russian high command, meanwhile, insists the operation to regain control of Chechnya is going to plan.

It said troops had foiled an attempt by what it called Chechen bandits to escape from Grozny under cover of heavy fog that has rolled in from the Caucasus mountains.

President Maskhadov's appeal for a truce to enable independent assesment of Chechen claims that Russian are using chemical weapons was dissmissed by Moscow.

Russia has repeatedly denied the allegation and has, in turn, accused the rebels of blowing up cisterns with poisonous chemicals to hinder the Russian troops' advance on the city. The rebels deny the accusations.

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See also:
03 Jan 00 |  Europe
Rebels claim Russian setbacks
01 Jan 00 |  Europe
Putin thanks Russian troops
02 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Tories: Help Russia win in Chechnya
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Chechens hold firm in Grozny
31 Dec 99 |  Americas
US detects Russian missiles
24 Oct 99 |  Europe
The first bloody battle for Grozny
02 Jan 00 |  Europe
Fears grow for Chechen civilians

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