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Robert Parsons reports for BBC News
"Russia says it's got Chechen rebel fighters in its sights"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 January, 2000, 23:03 GMT
Russia defiant over Chechnya

bodies Russian soldiers collect the bodies of dead rebels


Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has bluntly dismissed western pleas for a ceasefire and peace talks on Chechnya.

David Russell-Johnston, leader of a visiting delegation from the Council of Europe, told Mr Ivanov some member countries were appalled by the indiscriminate killing of civilians in the conflict.
Battle for the Caucasus
But he later added that talk of a vote on Russia's suspension from the 41-member human rights body as a whole was premature.

Mr Ivanov responded that there was no point in anyone bearing sanctions coming to Russia.

Acting President Vladimir Putin, who earlier had talks with the delegation, called for better understanding from western powers, saying Russia should be judged on the facts of the situation not on the basis of propaganda.


Chechens pray as troops enter their village Benoi Chechens pray as troops enter their village

Mr Putin told Lord Russell-Johnston on Monday that he would fully co-operate with the Council of Europe's fact-finding mission, which is in preparation for a special debate on the Chechen war on 27 January.

But his forces have again stepped up their bombardment of the Chechen capital, Grozny, and continuing fighting is reported in several nearby areas.

A Russian army spokesman said around 90 Chechen rebels had been killed in operations on Monday.

Russian public television said Russian air force planes had been pounding Grozny all day.

It said reconnaissance photos showed about 20 large fires burning in Grozny and that the oil refinery and several fuel and ammunition dumps were ablaze.

Commanders said they expected to have the city under control in early February.

Moscow says it has already started moving elements of a pro-Russian administration into Chechnya's second city of Gudermes.

On Sunday, Russia launched a concerted effort to storm central districts of Grozny, unleashing a hail of artillery fire and rockets what it called a "decisive" new phase in the war.


Russian soldier in southern Chechnya Russia says the campaign is in a ''decisive phase''
Military officials, cited by Interfax, said Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships had carried out 110 missions between Sunday and Monday, bombing the capital and rebel hideouts in the mountainous south.

Russian military sources said the intense artillery and air attacks were providing cover for advancing ground troops.

There are also reports of fierce fighting in the south of the republic. But the rebels say they are resisting Russia's onslaught and will continue to do so.

Click here for a map of the region

Tens of thousands of people are understood to be trapped in Grozny, many of them too old, frail or poor to leave.

And more than 200,000 Chechens have been forced to flee over the border into neighbouring Ingushetia.

On Tuesday, the Council of Europe delegation will fly to the North Caucasus for talks with local leaders, including Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, a sharp critic of Moscow's policies in the region.

Taleban

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's ruling Taleban authorities have announced their recognition of Chechnya as an independent state.

They are the first government in the world to establish diplomatic relations with Chechen's Islamic rebel leaders.

However, the Taleban said they would not be intervening in Chechen affairs and their ability to help the separatists was limited.

The Taleban themselves are only recognised by three countries round the world and are under UN sanctions for supporting Islamic militants.

Afghans endured a decade of Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and the Afghan jihad, or holy war, is seen there as the key factor in the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Patience

Moscow moved troops into Chechnya in September after blaming separatist militants for invasions into Dagestan and bomb attacks in Russian cities.

Mr Putin said at the weekend that time and patience would be required to win the war.

But he stressed civilians would not be sacrificed for military gains, because local support was critical in the struggle to overcome the rebels.




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See also:
18 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's suffering conscripts
17 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechens 'buy off' Russian troops
17 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Chechnya making regional waves
10 Jan 00 |  Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
Eyewitness: Eerie calm in Argun
12 Jan 00 |  Europe
How Russia pays for the war
16 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia 'hiding true Chechnya toll'
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia accused of war crimes
12 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russia rethinks Chechnya tactics

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