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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 15:24 GMT


World: Europe

Russia blocks Chechen refugees

The plight of Chechnya's people will be assessed by the OSCE

Almost no refugees are being allowed to leave Chechnya despite assurances from Russia that the border is open.

Battle for the Caucasus
Russian troops said they had reopened a crossing into the Russian republic of Ingushetia, but during Tuesday morning only two women emerged from Chechnya, one of them pregnant.

Thousands of refugees are waiting at the border to try to escape Russia's continuing artillery and aircraft bombardment. One of the women said there was a line of vehicles 20km long waiting to cross.

Only 150 people were allowed into Ingushetia on Monday, when the border was opened for the first time in a week. Russian forces closed the crossing for the night.

Tensions are running high. According to one report, Russian federal troops and local police were involved in a brief scuffle at a border crossing.


BBC correspondent Andrew Harding on the Chechen border: "Only two women got out"
The police demanded that refugees be let out of Chechnya at a crossing known as Kavkaz One.

The Russian Interfax news agency reported that four elderly people had died waiting at the crossing.

A BBC correspondent on the border, Andrew Harding, says two buses packed with civilians were allowed to cross in the other direction - into Chechnya. Those on board said they were returning to rescue relatives still trapped in the war zone.

Another 15 buses were waiting to cross behind them.

Humanitarian visit


[ image: Russian troops have been advancing steadily]
Russian troops have been advancing steadily
Russia has agreed to allow a team into Chechnya to assess the humanitarian situation in the republic.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov gave permission for a delegation from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to travel to Chechnya and Dagestan, the Norwegian foreign ministry said.

A Norwegian-led team will travel to the region by the end of next week, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Mr Ivanov is in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to attend a memorial ceremony on the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.


BBC correspondent Orla Guerin in Moscow: "Putin shows no sign of feeling any pressure"
United States President Bill Clinton is due to meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the event.

Mr Clinton is expected to call for restraint from the Russian armed forces and tell Mr Putin that he is troubled by the "indiscriminate use of force" against civilians in Chechnya.

Closing in on Grozny

Inside Chechnya, more and more people are trying to flee from the capital Grozny.

Russian warplanes and artillery again bombarded the city on Tuesday morning, hitting the northern outskirts as well as the airport, Chechen officials said.

The districts of Staropromyslovski, Katayama, Tridsachestoi Uchastok and Ivanovo in the northwest came under fire, as well as the disused Sheikh Mansur airport in the north, the French news agency AFP quoted a spokesman of the Chechen armed forces as saying.


[ image: Russian soldiers take up position in the outskirts of Gudermes]
Russian soldiers take up position in the outskirts of Gudermes
Overnight, the Russian airforce hit the western Chechen rebel stronghold of Bamut and Urus-Martan in the same region, the spokesman said.

The eastern town of Gudermes was also hit by bombs and artillery shells, the Russian Defence Ministry said.

Russian forces are reported to have taken up positions 4km (2.5 miles) from Grozny.

They have steadily advanced toward the capital since moving into the republic on 1 October.



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