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Jeremy Cooke in Gudermes
"Local people don't want the Russians but they have no choice"
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The BBC's Mike Williams
"The bombardment is driving more refugees into exile"
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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 09:58 GMT
Chechens dig in for Grozny
Refugees have reported intense shelling

The Russian federal forces are making what may be their final advance on the Chechen capital Grozny.

Moscow says it estimates that about 5,000 Chechen fighters have barricaded themselves in Grozny, waiting for a Russian onslaught.

Battle for the Caucasus
Russian troops clashed with Chechen fighters as federal forces moved to encircle the besieged capital.

A Moscow spokesman said troops were now advancing towards Urus-Martan, a key rebel town that has held out against the Russian advance 15 km (10 miles) to the south.

Refugees fleeing the area said heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers could be heard near Urus-Martan, which sits on a key southern route that supplies Grozny with food, men and weapons.

Russian troops are also searching for firewood
But there are reports that rebels are digging trenches on the outskirts of the town as they prepare to face the Russian attack. Because of its strategic importance, Urus-Martan might become the first major centre where Russians face organised rebel resistance.

Correspondents say the rebels admit they have so far been unable to effectively counter Russian tactics of shelling towns and villages from a distance before moving in.

Click here to see a map of the region

But they believe their light weapons will be far more effective in the streets of Grozny.

Chechnya's second-largest city, Gudermes, is now under Russian control.

A BBC correspondent who visited Gudermes on a trip organised by the Russian army said many of the buildings stood in ruins. But he added that the gas supply had been restored, which will make a real difference during the coming months of hard winter.

The gas is back on in Gudermes
The Russian Government has also said it has re-opened 65 schools and brought in 20 tonnes of medicines together with teams of doctors, as it restablishes its control over the rebel republic.

The commander of the Russian 247th Airborne Regiment said in a Russian television report that he intended to clear rebels from several villages in the south of the Gudermes District of Chechnya.

"Our next task is to mop up these settlements and to prevent bandit groups from infiltrating these settlements," he said.

But a local resident said the authorities would have to work to build trust among local people.

Weather worsens for refugees

In the border refugee camps in neighbouring Ingushetia, the weather is worsening. A heavy freezing fog has descended in the region and the landscape is crusted with frost and ice.

In the camps the search for firewood takes on a greater urgency after nights like these.

Many of the refugees leaving Chechnya say wounded civilians are being held up on the border and denied medical aid while Russian soldiers check their identities.

Correspondents say they are unable to confirm these reports as they are not allowed into Chechnya, but different groups of refugees tell substantially the same story.

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See also:
20 Nov 99 |  Europe
Chechnya: We will fight to the end
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift
19 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Russia's media war over Chechnya
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
UN chief: No Chechen 'catastrophe'
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Chechnya overshadows security accords

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