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The BBC's Andrew Harding reports
"The Russian Military is giving off mixed signals"
 real 28k

The BBC's correspondent Paul Anderson reports:
"The Russian commander says the interpretation of the leaflet is all wrong"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 12:17 GMT
Grozny ultimatum 'aimed at bandits'
Russian wounded Russia says its losses during the Grozny attack will be "minimal"

A leading Russian general in Chechnya has denied that Moscow's "leave-or-die" warning to residents of the capital Grozny is aimed at civilians.

Battle for the Caucasus
General Viktor Kazantsev, commander of Russian troops in the Caucasus, said the threat was aimed at "bandits", and not the tens of thousands of civilians hiding in the city, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

On the ground, Russia has launched an operation to take the rebel stronghold of Urus-Martan, south-west of Grozny.

Reuters news agency said Russian troops had begun moving into the town, after a Chechen spokesman said the rebels had left in order to regroup.

You are surrounded, all roads to Grozny are blocked. You have no chance of winning.
Russian leaflet
However other reports said fighting was continuing. Russian state television said federal troops had captured the western half of the town, killing some 70 Chechen fighters out of a 250-strong detachment.

The stronghold was heavily bombed by Russian planes over the 24 hours to Wednesday morning. Raids have also been continuing on Grozny where the Russians say about 5,000 Chechen fighters are dug in. Russian officials said planes and helicopters carried out 150 sorties against rebel targets in 24 hours.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says Moscow's clarification of its ultimatum may have political motives, with Russia realising it was a step too far for the West, and that it coincided with an EU meeting in Helsinki.

Following the original announcement, Russia faced a barrage of international criticism and the suspension of a massive economic aid package by the International Monetary - although the IMF said the two were not connected.

Urus-Battle Chechen forces say they have pulled out of Urus-Martan after a fierce battle
"This is a warning to bandits - the one-week deadline was set for them," Gen Kazantsev told a press conference in Mozdok, North Ossetia.

"We do not want to deliver strikes because we know full well that old people, women and children remain there."

The general said the army planned to conduct its Grozny operation with the "minimal number of losses on the side of federal forces and civilians", and "maximum destruction of international terrorists".

Correspondents questioned how any Russian assault would be able to distinguish between Chechen fighters and civilians as both were sheltering underground in the ruined city.

Leaflets dropped over the Chechen capital by the Russian military told inhabitants to leave by Saturday or be wiped out.

One said: "Until 11 December, a corridor will remain open... Those who leave Grozny by that point will be offered housing, food and medicine, and - most importantly - life.

leaflet Many Grozny residents have not yet seen the leaflets
"People who remain in Grozny will be viewed as terrorists and bandits. All those who have not left the city will be destroyed."

However BBC correspondent Paul Anderson said that many of the leaflets were blown away in strong winds and were never seen by the trapped residents.

Few of the estimated 40,000 residents remaining in the city have been seen leaving the city along a guaranteed safety corridor.

Russian Interior Minister, Vladimir Rushaila, has since announced that a safe corridor would remain open beyond Saturday and that refugees could expect to be housed and fed.

International outrage

Moscow has protested against the IMF's suspension of the latest $640m instalment in financial aid and accused the body of having bowed to political pressure.

A crosses a checkpoint near Sleptsovskaya Refugees are still fleeing
The IMF has denied this, saying that it decided to halt aid because Russia had failed to implement economic reforms agreed in July.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, has expressed alarm about the fate of the thousands of trapped civilians.

Mrs Ogata told Russia's Emergencies Minister, Sergei Shoigu, the civilian population was the agency's "top concern".

The European Union said it was reconsidering whether it should sign expected accords with Russia and ministers from Islamic countries have gone to the region, which is predominantly Muslim, to urge an end to the bombardment.

Muslims leaders are concerned the planned offensive will coincide with the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Putin defiant

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has rebuffed criticism, saying the West should put pressure on the rebels in Chechnya to meet Moscow's demands.

But the president of neighbouring Ingushetia said that there were genuine fears that the conflict would descend into the same carnage seen in the first Chechen war with "grenades thrown into cellars" and "a storm of shells" falling on Grozny.

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See also:
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
UN says Chechens face death
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny: A city in terror
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Beseiged in a doomed city
07 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Russian media unmoved by Grozny ultimatum
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Putin rebuffs Chechnya warnings
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Leave or die, Chechens told
08 Dec 99 |  Business
IMF delays Russian loan
08 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Cook defends Chechnya response

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