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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke on the Chechen border
"Sub-zero temperatures, snow on the ground and - for many - no food, heat or water"
 real 28k

Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 07:37 GMT
Chechens 'using human shields'
Checehn pull over for Russian APC Chechens allow a Russian military convoy past

Russian forces have accused Chechen fighters of using civilians as a "human shield" by preventing them leaving the capital, Grozny, as it comes under continued bombardment.

Battle for the Caucasus
Chechen fighters in other parts of the breakaway republic have been putting up fierce resistance to what they described as a massed attack by the Russians on all fronts.

Both sides reported heavy fighting around the town of Argun, 8 km (five miles) east of Grozny, which Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev said would be captured in two or three days.


"The anti-terrorist operation could continue for one, two or three months."
Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev
Two months to the day since Russian forces rolled into Chechnya, he said the Chechens were getting weaker, and that the operation would be over in "one, two or three months".

Russian forces have been trying to encircle Grozny, but have been making slow progress over the last two weeks. They have indicated they would prefer to lay siege to the capital and attack it from the air, rather than storming it with ground troops.

'Almost no' civilians left

Russian military sources quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency said there were "almost no" civilians left in Grozny - though according to some other estimates there are tens of thousands, among them a large number of elderly and infirm who are unable to leave.

Chechen volunteers Chechen volunteers are fighting alongside Russian troops
The sources said the rebels were preventing people from leaving, in order to use them as a human shield against the bombardment. They also said rebels were trying to leave the city posing as civilians, and that large numbers of Chechen fighters were deserting.

However, Chechen commanders are confidently claiming successes after intensified clashes in the last few days.

"Despite a new massed attack by the Russian aggressor, using all forces and means available, there are no significant changes of the frontline," a report on a Chechen website said.

It added the Russians were attacking without regard for losses, and the fiercest clashes had taken place in villages south-west of Grozny, and near Argun, Novogrozny and Alleroi in the east.

Click here to see a map of the region

Marshal Sergeyev said Russian forces had cut off Argun, a large town that guards the eastern approaches to Grozny.

"The position of the bandits is deteriorating ... For now, what the army is doing is sufficient," he added.

Argun seeks peace

Itar-Tass said that the residents of Argun had appealed to Russian forces to be spared further bombardment, saying that the Chechen rebels had abandoned the town.

Children on bus Children peer from a bus crossing the Chechen border
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in neighbouring Ingushetia - the main destination for 223,000 refugees who have fled Chechnya - says that some are now risking their lives to return home, because conditions in the camps are unbearable.

He says many are without proper access to food, water and heat.

There is snow on the ground, with sub-zero temperatures.

Refugees are queuing up at the border, he says, because they think they stand a better chance of survival in Chechnya, despite the continuing bombardments by Russian planes and artillery.

Too dangerous for aid workers

A spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees said delays in getting security guarantees for aid workers was hampering relief efforts.

"Every delay is frustrating," UN spokesman Kris Janowski said.

"It is a major humanitarian crisis that we have in Ingushetia, let alone Chechnya, where there is no international aid.

"All we get is news on intensifying military activity, which of course is taking a toll on the civilian population."

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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
How war came to a Chechen village
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Moscow blamed for aid delays
29 Nov 99 |  Europe
Rebels 'repel' Russian advance
28 Nov 99 |  Europe
Escape route for refugees
27 Nov 99 |  Europe
IMF warning to Moscow
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift

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