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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 22:00 GMT

World: Europe

Chechnya fears 'total destruction'

Russia's offensive continues, as refugees cope with bitterly cold weather

Chechnya's foreign minister says Russia will not halt its attacks until it has obliterated the breakaway republic.

"The Chechen people are now standing on the threshold of total destruction," said Iyas Akhmadov.
Battle for the Caucasus

He said Russia had spurned all attempts to sit down at a negotiating table since the beginning of its Chechen offensive six weeks ago.

lyas Akhmadov spoke during a visit to France, as international fears grew of a humanitarian crisis.

A mounting refugee problem and growing numbers of civilian casualties have led to a chorus of Western countries demanding an end to the offensive.

The BBC's Orla Guerin: "In terror they are fleeing on foot even in a snow storm"
Thousands of refugees each day continue to flee Chechnya for tent cities which are springing up on its borders, despite the bitter weather and snow which is setting in.

One of the few foreign organisations operating at the camps said the Russian stations providing first aid were catastrophically short of supplies.

A delegation from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is visiting Chechnya's neighbouring republic of Ingushetia on Wednesday to observe the impact of the offensive.

It will be the first time any Western officials have visited the area for a week.

The delegation, which Russia has not allowed into Chechnya itself, plans to study the situation on the ground and the prospects for assisting refugees.

Click here to see a map of the region

BBC correspondent Paul Anderson says it will hear harrowing accounts of indiscriminate brutality against Chechen civilians by Russian forces.

The mission will then report back to the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18 November.

[ image: Akhmadov: Fears Chechnya will be entirely destroyed]
Akhmadov: Fears Chechnya will be entirely destroyed
The US has said Russia's military tactics were "not in keeping" with the Geneva Convention and commitments established by the OSCE, and demanded a negotiated end to the conflict.

France said on Tuesday that Russia had "lost its way".

But Russia continues to reject all criticism, saying it is determined to wipe out separatist "terrorists".

"We are dealing with armed groups which are well armed and trained and financed from abroad," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putinn said on Tuesday.

"Our actions are fully appropriate in view of the threat Russia is facing."

The BBC's Paul Anderson: "One refugee had hidden in her cellar for a month while the Russians destroyed her village"
Far from scaling down its offensive, Moscow has said it is sending more tanks and troops to the republic.

They will be deployed around the capital Grozny, and Chechnya's second-largest city, Gudermes, in further attempts to cut off the two cities.

[ image: The first snows have set in]
The first snows have set in
Russia's advance was hampered by bad weather on Tuesday, with most warplanes being grounded by heavy snow and thick fog.

Battles were limited to sporadic fighting at Gudermes, and the western Chechen mountain stronghold of Bamut. Both have been under heavy Russian fire for weeks.

The Russian military denied reports that it had captured the village of Bamut.

But it said it flew more than 20 missions over southern Chechnya, targeting the rebel stronghold of Urus-Martan.

No casualty figures were available for Tuesday.

[ image:  ]

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