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Peter Biles reports for BBC News
"The Russians continue to meet stiff resistance"
 real 28k

Saturday, 29 January, 2000, 18:40 GMT
Russia claims Grozny gains

A Chechen inspects the remains of his home north of Grozny

Russian forces say they have made substantial progress in their efforts to take the Chechen capital Grozny.

Battle for the Caucasus
A Russian presidential aide said 54 Chechen fighters in the city had given themselves up on Saturday.

He said that meant 95 rebels - some of them badly injured - had surrendered in different places over the past 24 hours.

"Several dozen" more Chechens were due to surrender by early on Sunday, Russian sources said.

But a spokesman for the Chechen rebels told the Reuters news agency that none of the fighters had laid down their weapons.

Strategic square

Earlier, Russian military officials said they had expanded their positions around the strategic Minutka Square.

A senior Chechen commander said fighting was going on about 500m from the square, which controls access to the centre of Grozny.

Correspondents said this appeared to be the first time that the rebels had admitted that the Russians were close to the square.

Click here for map

They Russians said they had made progress in the Leninsky area north of Minutka Square, and the Oktyabrsky area to the south.

They also said they had blocked a road connecting the square to western parts of the city.

A wounded Russian soldier being airlifted out Grozny

A senior Russian commander, General Valery Manilov, said his troops had captured several high-rise buildings in the district.

"Our troops have taken several tall buildings that dominated the area. There were snipers nests there from which practically everything could be hit," he said.

Federal sources also reported that they had prevented three attempts by Chechen fighters to break through their lines, killing 50 rebels in the process.

Rebel counter claims

However, a rebel fighter who escaped from Grozny on Saturday said Russian forces only controlled a few blocks in the capital.

Russian soldiers with mortar shells Russian soldiers prepare mortar shells in the south of Grozny
Identified only as Bislan, the fighter said rebels were positioned behind Russian forces and were ready to attack.

The Chechens have shown no signs that they are ready to give up the fight for Grozny.

On Friday, President Aslan Maskhadov was quoted as telling his commanders to hold their positions in the city until 23 February - the anniversary of the deportation of Chechens to Siberia and Kazakhstan by Stalin.

There is no independent confirmation of statements made by either side.

However the BBC's Peter Biles in Moscow says that at the very least the Russian forces are facing fierce resistance, and have made little progress in the last week.

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See also:
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Putin defends Chechen campaign
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Analysis: Russians learn from past mistakes

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