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The BBC's Bridget Kendall in Ingushetia
"These Chechens aren't waiting for outside help."
 real 28k

The BBC's Helen Sawyer:
"Russians struggle against rebel snipers amid reports of mounting casualties."
 real 28k

Thursday, 27 January, 2000, 05:32 GMT
Chechen refugees promised help

Refugee A refugee in a tent camp cuts wood for fuel

Aid agencies have promised more help for tens of thousands of Chechen refugees living in appalling conditions in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

Battle for the Caucasus
A United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) official conceded that the organisation had been slow to mobilise support but said distribution networks had been set up to get more food, clothing and medical supplies to refugees scattered over 260 locations.

He acknowledged that the fear of kidnapping kept many aid workers away.

Tuberculosis and flu

The UNHCR reports that nearly 9,000 Chechen refugees have fled the republic in the last four days.

Refugees Some people are returning to Chechnya rather than live in appalling conditions
Overcrowding and fears of tuberculosis and flu epidemics have left the camps housing refugees from the war in Chechnya in serious crisis, says the UN.

Sub-zero temperatures and snow are adding to the difficulties faced by the refugees.

Most of the estimated 250,000 refugees are in camps just across the border in Ingushetia.

In one camp, Ingush officials said they had 500 refugees that they were unable to place, many of them seriously traumatised new arrivals who had just fled the Russian assault on Grozny.

'Meat grinder'

On the battle front, intense fighting continues in Grozny where heavy snow is reported to have hindered the already slow Russian advance.

The Russians say the poor weather has forced them to call off air strikes on Chechen fighters in Grozny, leaving federal troops without air support.

Click here for a map of Grozny

The BBC's correspondent in Chechnya, Ben Brown, says Grozny has been nicknamed the 'meat grinder' because so many young Russian conscripts are getting killed or injured.

Fierce fighting is also raging in the rugged mountains to the south of the capital, where federal troops are trying to smash rebel strongholds and cut off supply routes from neighbouring Georgia.

Call for sanctions

The Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov, who is rumoured to be hiding out in the mountains, has appealed to the international community to impose sanctions against Russia and, failing that, to arm the Chechen people.

Supporters of Mr Mashhadov released a short video-taped interview with the president on Wednesday, but it is unclear when the interview was carried out.

But it comes at a time when the Council of Europe is debating whether to suspend Russia over its campaign in Chechnya.

The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, is due to attend a parliamentary session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Thursday to answer continuing criticism of the fighting.

EU foreign ministers have this week imposed limited financial sanctions on Russia

I think in these sorts of conflicts the interest of the civilians - the innocent civilians, the vulnerable - must be paramount in everyone's mind
Kofi Annan
The conflict in Chechnya will be one of the topics discussed when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pays a three-day visit to Moscow from Thursday.

In Moscow, the authorities have put the security forces on heightened alert because of fears of retaliatory terrorist attacks as the federal army pursues its offensive in Chechnya.

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See also:
26 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia admits heavy casualties
26 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Russian troops' tales of war
24 Jan 00 |  Europe
EU freezes financial aid to Russia
23 Jan 00 |  Europe
In pictures: Chechen campaign
24 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechens cling on to Grozny
21 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechen refugees 'body searched'
18 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Russians learn from past mistakes

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