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The BBC's Ben Brown
"This war is turning Mr Putin into a national hero"
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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke reports
"Some rebel units are still active"
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The BBC's Richard Lister
"The US wants to avoid any tactic that might further undermine the Russian economy"
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US journalist Michael Slackman
"Young boys suddenly find themselves in combat in Chechnya"
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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 18:14 GMT
Russia tightens grip on Grozny gateway
Chechen refugees Refugees say police are detaining them on the Ingush border

Russia is intensifying military operations around the Chechen rebel stronghold of Urus-Martan to prepare for an assault on the capital Grozny.

Moscow says it has surrounded 80% of Grozny, leaving Urus-Martan, 20km (12 miles) to the south-west, the only remaining approach.

Battle for the Caucasus
Russian planes and artillery have been bombarding the town for days to try to force an estimated 3,500 separatist rebels from the town.

But Chechen rebel leaders remain defiant, denying Russian suggestions that they are abandoning the city.

Moscow has so far ruled out storming the town because of the fear of high casualty figures.

Mr Putin: Offering an amnesty
Eyewitnesses report that Russian troops have also dug in close to Argun, 15km east of Grozny.

Rain and fog forced Russian forces to cut back their air strikes on Wednesday. Russian jets flew only 15 combat missions, and combat helicopters 30.

The relative lull in air attacks prompted some Chechen refugees sheltering in neighbouring Ingushetia to return to their home towns to retrieve belongings and visit family.

Civilians have been afraid of using the roads, accusing Russia of indiscriminate bombing.

Refugees stopped

"In such weather, I can get anywhere I need to go," said refugee Alikham Chimayev, 24, as he returned to his village in the Urus-Martan region.

"I am taking food for my family. All of my relatives, young and old, all have stayed in the village. So they need food."

An estimated 200,000 refugees have fled the fighting since Russia launched its military campaign to flush out the rebels eight weeks ago.

Refugees have reported that Russian police are detaining increasing numbers of people at the Ingush border - some for sharing the same last name as rebel commanders.

Click here to see a map of the region

Russian gunships: Supporting ground troops
Moscow accuses the rebels of trying to seize Dagestan and bombing several Russian cities.

It is still unclear how Russia intends to flush out the rebels from Grozny. But General Vladimir Shamanov said: "I am 100% percent sure of our victory."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia will offer an amnesty to fighters who "do not have the blood of Russian citizens on their hands".

A similar amnesty was declared after the 1994-96 war which left the republic with de facto independence.

Chechen response

But senior Chechen commander Shamil Basayev dismissed the offer. "The aggressors want to die on our land, and we will help them to do this," he said.

Mr Putin gave little away about the military's next moves.

"Our aim is not to encircle the terrorists. Our aim is to destroy them and bring them to justice," he said in televised remarks.

"How we achieve that aim, by encircling them, attacking them, squeezing them out, that is all for the military leadership to decide on the ground."

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on Thursday launched his own appeal to Russian soldiers to desert their units and come over to the Chechen side.

"You're suffering hardships of military service in Chechnya not for the sake of the Russian people, but in the interests of a small group of Russian politicians," he wrote in an open letter to the Russian troops.

"You are gun-fodder and human slaves in a high-profit business called war."

No Cold War

The international community has put increasing pressure on Russia to halt the offensive, focusing on reports of civilian casualties and the refugee plight.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the war must not be allowed to damage relations between Russia and the West, and turn Russia back into a Cold War enemy.

She made the comments after Mr Putin ordered $115m to be added to the Chechnya war budget.

President Boris Yeltsin summoned Mr Putin and top ministers on Thursday to discuss the conflict at the Kremlin. He was taken to hospital after becoming unwell during the session. Details of the talks were not available.

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See also:
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
15 Oct 99 |  Europe
Chechnya: Russian army, Western money?
24 Oct 99 |  Europe
The first bloody battle for Grozny
24 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Chechen war divides neighbours
23 Nov 99 |  Europe
Ingush president expects long conflict
20 Nov 99 |  Europe
Chechnya: We will fight to the end
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift
24 Nov 99 |  Europe
Russia boosts war coffers

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