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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"White flags did not save innocent lives yesterday"
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BBC's Andrew Harding in Moscow
"Russian claims may be premature"
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Saturday, 4 December, 1999, 18:42 GMT
Russia 'seals off' Grozny
Soldiers Russian soldiers help an injured compatriot

Russia says it has completely blockaded the Chechen capital Grozny, amid reports of fierce fighting in the nearby town of Argun.

Battle for the Caucasus
"The city of Grozny is fully under blockade," the commander of Russian forces in the north Caucasus, General Viktor Kazantsev, told Russian TV.

He was speaking at Russia's Mozdok base, near Chechnya, as Russian planes and artillery attacked the outskirts of Argun - a key gateway to the capital.

A BBC correspondent says that while the Russians may have seized control of the key roads leading to the capital, they probably do not command the areas in between.

'Harsh resistance'

On Friday, Russian forces claimed to have seized Argun and the Chechens were reported to have withdrawn.

But reports on Saturday said Chechen fighters had dug themselves in and built "serious fortifications" in an attempt to defend the town.

A Russian official told the Interfax news agency his troops were meeting strong resistance from Chechen rebels in the town.

He said the rebels had mined sections of the town, which was complicating the advance.

Click here to see a map of the region

Argun straddles the main road leading into the Chechen capital, Grozny, which Russia is now making a concerted effort to encircle.

Moscow's aim is to lay siege to the capital and to do so successfully it must control Argun and at least two other nearby towns which the rebels could otherwise use as bases.

Thousands of civilians are still living inside Grozny in conditions which are increasingly lacking in basic humanitarian supplies.

According to eyewitness reports a convoy of refugees trying to escape the city was attacked by Russian troops on Friday.

Some 40 civilians are reported to have died. Russian officials have dismissed the incident as Chechen propaganda.

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See also:
04 Dec 99 |  Europe
'Russians fired on refugees'
01 Dec 99 |  Europe
Chechens 'using human shields'
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
How war came to a Chechen village
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
28 Nov 99 |  Europe
Escape route for refugees
27 Nov 99 |  Europe
IMF warning to Moscow
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift

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