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Robert Parsons in Grozny
"It's clear the Russians are gradually squeezing the Chechens out of the city"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 05:54 GMT
Chechen rebels told to surrender

Russian army Russia says fierce fighting continues

The Russian defence minister says Chechen rebels will not be allowed to leave the capital, Grozny, except under a white flag and after they have laid down their weapons.

Battle for the Caucasus
Igor Sergeyev was speaking after a senior spokesman for the Chechen rebels told the BBC that all their fighters had withdrawn from Grozny, having been under attack from Russian forces since last October.

But Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the acting Russian president's aide, said fierce fighting was continuing.

Nobody will ever allow the rebels to leave the city other than under a white flag and after laying down their weapons
Igor Sergeyev
He told a news conference: "If they left Grozny, we would have informed you by all means."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov refused to confirm any withdrawal, though he said it was clear that the conflict was going in that direction.

Chechen minister Movladi Udugov said rebels left as part of a planned retreat, as Russian forces closed in on the central districts.

Only a few days ago, the Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov, was telling his commanders to remain in Grozny until 23 February - the anniversary of the Russian deportation of Chechens in 1944.

Bloody exodus

Eyewitness reports from Gronzy suggest a large and bloody exodus from the capital.

Chechen fighters and local residents said several commanders were killed when a large contingent of rebels blundered into a minefield on the edge of Grozny.

Battle for Grozny
Siege started on Christmas Day
An estimated 3,000 Chechen fighters defended Grozny
Some 100 Russian troops were killed and 300 injured, according to Moscow
Grozny almost flattened by Russian bombardment
Dozens more fighters were killed or wounded when Russian artillery pounded those trapped in the minefield, they said.

Mr Udugov said he had been informed of the redeployment by rebel field commander Shamil Basayev.

But reports said the commander had been wounded in fighting and undergone surgery in Alkhan-Kala, near Grozny, on Monday.

Click here to see the location of the latest fighting

Rebels also reported that the city's rebel mayor Lecha Dudayev, a relative of the former Chechen leader, Zohar Dudayev, had been killed, as had rebel generals Aslambek Ismailov and Khunkarpasha Israpilov.

A BBC correspondent in Moscow says a Chechen withdrawal from Grozny would be a significant victory for the Russians, but they will still be wary. Rebels lost the city in 1995, but retook it in 1996.

refugees More than 2,000 refugees fled Chechnya on Monday
Mr Ivanov has said Moscow's intense military offensive in Chechnya is drawing to a close.

Television pictures have showed Russian flags flying over Minutka Square - one of the most hotly contested parts of Grozny.

The square, which offers access to central districts, was the scene of fierce battles in the 1994-96 Chechen war, which ended with a humiliating Russian retreat from the region.

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Can anyone claim victory?
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Conflict not over yet
01 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Chechens deny defeat in Grozny
31 Jan 00 |  Europe
US warns Russia over Chechnya
26 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Russian troops' tales of war
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Refugees battle Caucasus winter
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Chechnya campaign 'almost over'
30 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russians losing faith in Chechen war
30 Jan 00 |  From Our Own Correspondent
The shifting sands of war

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