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The BBC's Andrew Harding
"Kremlin forces have advanced slowly"
 real 28k

Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 21:32 GMT
Russians pursue Chechen rebels

Ingush refugee camp Civilians once again flee to safety in Ingushetia

Dozens of civilians are reported to have been killed in Chechnya as Russian troops pursue rebels into countryside southwest of the capital, Grozny.

Battle for the Caucasus
Military sources and displaced people say 50 separatist fighters and many civilians have been killed.

Fierce air and artillery attacks hit Katyr-Yurt and other villages on Saturday, Chechen field commander Akhmed Basnukayev said.

I only hope the Russians let the people out
Fleeing villager
"Those who could, fled straight away," said one refugee, adding that there were at least 200 civilians left behind in her village.

"We don't know what's going on there now," she said. "There will definitely be casualties. I only hope the Russians let the people out."

The Russians suspect the villages are harbouring some of the 3,000 rebels who have broken through the blockade of the capital since Monday.

Click here to see a map of the latest fighting

They aim to prevent the rebels from reaching mountain strongholds to the south, where thousands of their comrades are concentrated.

Refugees from the villages said most rebels had already broken through Russian lines and fled, and that only injured fighters remained.

Rebel attack

But in a setback for federal forces, Chechen rebel fighters made a surprise attack on Katyr-Yurt, forcing a detachment of Russian interior ministry troops to withdraw.

The Russians say they pulled out after being heavily outnumbered by about 1,000 rebels and after three of the interior ministry troops were killed.

Russian forces say they are encountering little resistance in Grozny
But they say they have now surrounded the village and are shelling it. Smoke from the village could be seen three kilometres (1.5 miles) away, one eyewitness said.

Dozens of civilians are being treated in hospitals in neighbouring Ingushetia after coming under fire in the attacks.

One woman told how she received shrapnel wounds in her back and legs after shielding her one-month-old child from an artillery attack in nearby Zakan-Yurt.

Missing reporter

There is also growing concern over the fate of a Russian reporter who was handed over by the army to Chechen rebels in exchange for two Russian soldiers.

The journalist, Andrei Babitsky, an employee of the American-funded Radio Liberty, was detained by the Russians for more than two weeks for allegedly working in Chechnya without accreditation.

Grozny graffiti reads: "Welcome to hell part II"
The International Federation of Journalists has condemned Moscow for putting pressure on journalists who do not reflect its propaganda.

Meanwhile, Russian troops are continuing to advance further into Grozny and are reported to be meeting little resistance.

Russian television said Grozny was largely quiet on Saturday, apart from a few skirmishes between remaining rebels and troops.

But Valery Manilov, first deputy chief of the General Staff, told NTV commercial television it was still too early to declare the operation in Grozny complete.

"As the task of freeing Grozny from bandit groups is carried out, it allows us to regroup forces in the southern direction to complete the routing and liquidation of bandit groups in the Argun Gorge and mountainous regions," he said.

He said he believed about 7,000 fighters remained in the southern mountains of the breakaway republic and about 1,000 were still hiding out in Grozny.

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See also:
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russia to cut Chechnya force
06 Feb 00 |  Europe
Putin on target for Presidency
03 Feb 00 |  Europe
Chechen rebels 'set up mountain base'
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Conflict not over yet
02 Feb 00 |  Europe
Turkey succours wounded Chechens
31 Jan 00 |  Europe
US warns Russia over Chechnya
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Refugees battle Caucasus winter
30 Jan 00 |  From Our Own Correspondent
The shifting sands of war

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