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The BBC's William Horsley
"Russia in angry mood wants to win at any cost"
 real 28k

Saturday, 15 January, 2000, 16:59 GMT
Russia relaunches offensive

soldiers near grozny Russian soldiers patrol their positions near Grozny

The heaviest Russian land and air offensive for several weeks is under way in Chechnya.

More than 180 air sorties have been flown by Russian warplanes as Moscow seeks to regain the momentum it lost during successful rebel counter-attacks last week.

Battle for the Caucasus
Reports have also emerged of heavy civilian casualties as Russian forces bomb the Chechen capital Grozny and fighting is reported in and around the city.

Grozny is an ideal place for street fighting; it is possible to defend it for years. Russian soldiers will find their death here
Chechen rebel commander
Black smoke spewed out of an oil depot at Grozny's main refinery set ablaze by bombs, as Russian soldiers pounded the city with artillery and mortar fire.

Local people said that 30 civilians were killed when Russian forces stormed the western suburb of Khankala, without giving the non-combatants time to flee.

Click here for a map of the region

Russian news agencies said Grozny and mountain villages in the southern part of the rebel republic had borne the brunt of the latest air and artillery attacks.

Dead rebels The bodies of Chechen rebels lie abandoned near Grozny
The Russian Interior Ministry said 58 rebel fighters had been killed while trying to escape from Grozny into the mountains.

"After losing a third of their men, the bandits were forced to retreat into Grozny, leaving on the battlefield dead bodies, as well as a lot of weapons and ammunition."

Chechen fighters remain defiant. A Chechen news website, Kavkaz-Tsentr, says that Grozny is under the full control of the rebels.

"Grozny is an ideal place for street fighting; it is possible to defend it for years," Khizir Khachulayev, a rebel commander, said. "Russian soldiers will find their death here."

The BBC's correspondent in Moscow, William Horsley, said although Russian troops conducted house-to-house searches in many lowland towns and villages, the rebels had disappeared into the mountains.

'Help Chechen civilians'

A senior Russian human rights official has criticised the Russian army's treatment of Chechnya's civilian population.

Human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov told acting President Vladimir Putin that aid must be sent urgently to civilians affected by the crisis, and recommended new laws on assisting civilians caught in such conflicts.

Refugees pass soldier The Russians reopened the Ingush border
The Federal Migration Service supported the initiative, and said it was ready to assist in drafting the laws.

Officials in neighbouring Ingushetia said the border had reopened to Chechen refugees on Saturday.

Moscow had earlier closed the border to Chechen men aged 10 to 60, fearful that rebel fighters were escaping. No explanation was given for lifting the restriction.

In Shali, a village south-east of Grozny where the recent fighting was fiercest, civilians told Reuters news agency that they had become the main victims of the war.

"When will this war end? We are peaceful people, we are not bandits. We have had to live in the cellar for the past four days, not daring to go out," said Aset Mustayeva, 57.

Umar Khadjiev, 60, said the latest clashes had left many civilians wounded. "There are many injured here, including children, but we have no doctors, no Red Cross."

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?
12 Jan 00 |  Europe
How Russia pays for the war
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia accused of war crimes
12 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia rethinks Chechnya tactics
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
Eyewitness: Eerie calm in Argun
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechens feel Russia's might

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