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BBC's William Horsley reports
"The war in Chechnya is getting bloodier"
 real 28k

BBC's Andrew Leyne reports
"Another sign that the war is reaching a crucial phase"
 real 28k

Sunday, 16 January, 2000, 05:16 GMT
Putin admits errors in Chechnya

Russian soldiers Russian soldiers have been told to mobilise civilian support

The acting Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has said his senior military commanders have made mistakes in the Chechen conflict, but he insisted the campaign was going smoothly.

Battle for the Caucasus
Mr Putin said appropriate conclusions were being drawn from the errors.

He was speaking as Russian forces carried out their heaviest land and air offensive for several weeks.

Delays will be determined by what can be justified militarily. We will act firmly but not with cruelty
Vladimir Putin

Mr Putin told Russian television that time and patience would be required to win the war.

He did not say how long it would take, but correspondents say his remarks appeared to be preparing the public for an extended campaign.

Click here for a map of the region

Earlier in the week, a Russian general said the war would be over within two months, but Mr Putin was more circumspect.

"Delays will be determined by what can be justified militarily. We will act firmly but not with cruelty," Mr Putin said.

Hearts and minds

The Russian leader stressed that civilians would not be sacrificed for military gains, because local support was critical in the struggle.

Russian soldier The Russian offensive has been the heaviest for weeks

"It is only by broadening our base of support among civilians who back the federal authority that we can obtain an outright success - not with carpet bombing," he said.

The Russian army's treatment of Chechnya's civilian population had earlier been criticised by a senior Russian human rights official, as reports emerged of heavy civilian casualties in Russia's bombardment of Grozny.

Human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov told Mr Putin that aid had to be sent urgently to civilians affected by the crisis.

The rebels have also been criticised by human rights activists, who said they had provoked Russian counter-attacks in civilian areas.

Human Rights Watch said Chechen fighters had also frequently beaten and threatened civilians trying to save their villages.

In a separate development, the Russian special envoy to Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, said he was planning to move his administrative base into the republic within three days, to the second-largest city, Gudermes.

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See also:
15 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia relaunches offensive
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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