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Robert Parsons in Grozny
"It's clear the Russians are gradually squeezing the Chechens out of the city"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 11:45 GMT
Chechen fighters 'abandon Grozny'

The battle for Grozny has been bloody


Chechen fighters have evacuated their battered capital Grozny according to rebel officials, but Russia has denied that weeks of street fighting is over.

Battle for the Caucasus
Chechen minister Movladi Udugov said rebels left as part of a planned retreat before 0000GMT, as Russian forces closed in on the central districts.

But Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the acting Russian president's aide, said fierce fighting was continuing.



The withdrawal was carried out in an orderly fashion. There is not a single fighter left in Grozny
Chechen minister Movladi Udugov
He told a news conference: "If they left Grozny, we would have informed you by all means."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov refused to confirm any withdrawal, though he said it was clear that the conflict was going in that direction.

However, reports from Gronzy suggest a large and bloody exodus from the capital.

Chechen fighters and local residents said several commanders were killed when a large contingent of rebels blundered into a minefield on the edge of Grozny.


Battle for Grozny
Siege started on Christmas Day
An estimated 3,000 Chechen fighters defended Grozny
Some 100 Russian troops were killed and 300 injured, according to Moscow
Grozny almost flattened by Russian bombardment
Dozens more fighters were killed or wounded when Russian artillery pounded those trapped in the minefield, they said.

The news follows Russian reports that hundreds of Chechen fighters had surrendered and others were being held after an attempted break-out.

Mr Udugov said he had been informed of the redeployment by rebel field commander Shamil Basayev.

But reports said the commander had been wounded in fighting and undergone surgery in Alkhan-Kala, near Grozny, on Monday.

Click here to see the location of the latest fighting

Rebels also reported that the city's rebel mayor Lecha Dudayev, a relative of the former Chechen leader, Zohar Dudayev, had been killed, as had rebel generals Aslambek Ismailov and Khunkarpasha Israpilov.

A BBC correspondent in Moscow says a Chechen withdrawal from Grozny would be a significant victory for the Russians, but they will still be wary. Rebels lost the city in 1995, but retook it in 1996.


The number of dead and injured is not known
Earlier, Mr Ivanov said Moscow's intense military offensive in Chechnya was drawing to a close.

Reports said Russian troops had made significant advances in the capital, prompting Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev to point to the "first sign" that resistance was waning.

Television pictures have showed Russian flags flying over Minutka Square - one of the most hotly contested parts of Grozny.

The square, which offers access to central districts, was the scene of fierce battles in the 1994-96 Chechen war, which ended with a humiliating Russian retreat from the region.



I think it is hardly fair to talk about isolation and in any case, if there is any isolation, it is temporary
Igor Ivanov, Russian foreign minister

The Russians say they already control 40% of the capital.

Mr Ivanov described a "winding down" of the Russian offensive during talks with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Monday.

She again accused Russia of excessive force and indiscriminately attacking civilians. She is soon to have talks with the acting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier, she described Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic as "an incredible act of misery".

Isolation

But Mr Ivanov said no-one had come up with an effective way of dealing with terrorism other than the use of force.

Mrs Albright is the latest in a string of foreign dignitaries who have called for an end to Russia's war in Chechnya.

The US secretary of state's discussions in Moscow are also likely to focus on nuclear arms control.

She is expected to push hard for Moscow to ratify the Start-II treaty, which commits both sides to further reducing their nuclear stockpile to about 3,500 warheads each.





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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Can anyone claim victory?
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Conflict not over yet
01 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Chechens deny defeat in Grozny
31 Jan 00 |  Europe
US warns Russia over Chechnya
26 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Russian troops' tales of war
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Refugees battle Caucasus winter
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Chechnya campaign 'almost over'
30 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russians losing faith in Chechen war
30 Jan 00 |  From Our Own Correspondent
The shifting sands of war

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