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Orla Guerin
"Innocent civilians are likely to be killed"
 real 28k

Friday, 10 December, 1999, 11:09 GMT
Refugees fear Grozny assault

Russian military Next stop Grozny: The Russian military is on the move

By Orla Guerin on the Chechen border

Civilians in the Chechen capital, Grozny, are wondering what the weekend may bring.

Last Monday, Moscow dropped leaflets on the city telling all residents they must leave before Saturday.

Battle for the Caucasus
Anyone who remained would be treated as a terrorist and would be eliminated by air strikes and artillery assaults.

Since then, Moscow has toned down its ultimatum but the threat of an all-out offensive still stands.

If and when it comes, heavy civilian casualties are inevitable but Moscow does not seem to be concerned.

Refugees cry out to be heard, with stories of bombing and shelling and brutality.

At the Chechen border every day there are new victims of this war, new wounded, new homeless, new bereaved.

One refugee called the Russians "fascists". She said her husband and two sons were still trapped in their home in Grozny. She does not know if she will ever see them again.

Missing limbs

In the hospitals on the border you see many things which make you want to look away.

Grozny Large parts of Grozny have bomb damage
There are young children with missing limbs - a girl with only one arm, a boy with no legs.

When I met 12-year-old Zareema she was hiding her face. Half the flesh on one side has been blown away.

Her mother described the moment when her little girl was disfigured for life.

She said: "We were eating dinner when the shell flew into the house. There was a shockwave which threw us against the walls. My daughter was blown into the corridor. She was covered in blood."

In Grozny the situation is pure terror 24 hours a day. Local people say the bombing never stops.

Laziz Vergayev left a week ago. He says in Grozny the living are trapped with the dead.

He said: "There are many old people who are crying in the basements, who are very, very afraid.

"I saw many terrible situations. In the basements near the alive people there are many corpses who must be buried at once, but they can't and it's very difficult to describe."

Tanks move forward

Russian tanks are rolling towards Grozny. In the city there is a grim countdown to Saturday's deadline for everyone to flee, which Moscow now says is not a deadline after all.

I think the Russians are ready to use all the weapons they have.
Refugee Laziz Vergayev
One way or the other a final assault is coming and desperate civilians have little chance to get away.

Andre Milhonov, of the Russian human rights group Memorial, said: "People know it is not safe. That's why they don't go. Nobody wants to go 15 km (10 miles) under the shelling and air strikes.

"They have the feeling that if they are doomed they are doomed."

In its three months of fighting against Chechen rebels, Moscow has turned the Chechen people into a refugee nation.

Close to 250,000 have fled and now struggle to survive in the squalor and misery of tent cities. We waited with women and children as they queued in the mud for soup. It is their only meal of the day.

For each tent they usually give five litres of soup but sometimes it is only three - and there can be as many as 18 people to a tent.

Disproportionate force

In the Kremlin they will say Russia is at war with terrorists and this suffering cannot be avoided.

But Moscow stands accused of using disproportionate force against innocent and defenceless civilians.

Many, like Mr Vergayev, fear the worst is yet to come in the push for Grozny.

He said: "I think that the Russians are ready, without any doubt, to use all the weapons they have."

And the Kremlin will not want to wait for long. Russia's generals are anxious for that final deadly assault to begin

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See also:
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny ultimatum 'aimed at bandits'
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Besieged in a doomed city
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny: A city in terror
10 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia and China confront West

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