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Author Robert Young-Pelton
''The Chechens are terrified of leaving the city''
 real 28k

The BBC's Tom De Waal
''The people who've stayed behind are also the weakest''
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 17:46 GMT
Grozny: A city in terror
Russia has been closing in on Grozny for weeks

Aid workers have described how up to 50,000 civilians are trapped in horrifying conditions in the Chechen capital Grozny - unable to leave the ''inferno'' their city has become.

Battle for the Caucasus
Russia has given residents until Saturday to get out or face annihilation in an all out assault on the city.

But UN officials said most of those left behind were too old, too sick or too poor to make it to safety. Others have been injured by Russian shelling and cannot walk.

Many people just leave it up to Allah whether they live or not
Author Robert Young-Pelton
The UN also queried how civilians were expected to leave when Russia was continuing to bombard the city and surrounding area.

One refugee, who had recently fled her home, described how roads outside the capital were covered with bodies of people caught in the shelling.

Rocket attacks

Author Robert Young-Pelton, who has just left Grozny, painted a grim picture of the city.

refugees flee Chechnya About 240,000 refugees have already fled the republic
''The entire centre of Grozny is destroyed, there are massive craters, the windows have all been blown out, the buildings are sagging,'' he said.

Mr Young-Pelton, author of The World's Most Dangerous Places, said many civilians were too scared to leave because of the shelling.

He said he had witnessed a rocket attack on a market near a flat full of blind people and had counted 18 rocket barrages a minute during one recent bombardment.

''The Chechens are terrified of leaving the city because the [Russians] have been attacking [civilian] convoys in safe areas.

''Most people are destitute. They do not have the means or money to travel. There are no vehicles to get out,'' he added.

Horrific conditions

No one knows how many people are left in Grozny, but Lyndall Sachs of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said estimates varied between 15,000 and 50,000.

She said they were living in ''horrific conditions'' with no water, no electricity and limited food.

''If we do not get in there soon we're going to start seeing major problems for these people. They are very traumatised,'' she added.

The Russians have promised to open a safe corridor out of Grozny through which civilians can leave.

But Ms Sachs said: ''The bottom line is many of these people who are trapped cannot leave because they're too old, too sick, too young or they simply do not have the financial capacity to pay the bribes [or] pay the bus trip to get to safety.

''The Russian foreign ministry said it was a two hour walk, for many people that's two hours too long - many of those people simply cannot walk.''


Meanwhile refugees, who have already fled their homes, have told how scores of bodies litter the streets of Alkhan-Yurt just outside the capital, where fighting has been raging in recent days.

One refugee, Safita, said she had been sheltering in a cellar in the village when Russian soldiers threw in grenades killing 13 civilians hiding there.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Ultimatum sparks Grozny exodus
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Leave or die, Chechens told
05 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia denies killings during Grozny assault
04 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia 'seals off' Grozny
04 Dec 99 |  Europe
'Russians fired on refugees'
01 Dec 99 |  Europe
Chechens 'using human shields'

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