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The BBC's Steve Rosenburg in Moscow
"Refugees are once again streaming away from the war"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 14:46 GMT
Russian flag 'flies in key village'

A Russian soldier escorts rebels from the village
Russian troops say they have raised their flag over what is left of a key village in the Chechen mountains.

Their claim to have recaptured Komsomolskoye came as the United Nations reported a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing the republic.

For two weeks, federal forces have battled Chechen fighters entrenched in the village, which lies at the entrance to the strategic Argun gorge.

Russian soldiers outside Komsomolskoye
Russian soldiers outside Komsomolskoye
An Interior Ministry spokesman said the rebel band offered a cease-fire on Monday. Russian troops refused to negotiate, and 76 armed fighters surrendered several hours later.

Some 150 rebels were thought to remain holed up in the village with no escape route.

The field commander Ruslan Gelayev was not among those who surrendered - his whereabouts is not known, and it is not known whether he escaped or died in the fighting.

Military sources told Interfax news agency that 50 Russian soldiers had died in the pitched battles to seize the village, with some 300 wounded. The same source claimed that the Chechens lost 600 fighters.

The intense air and ground bombardment drove the civilian residents from their homes.

'Winding down'

Moscow says the war in Chechnya is winding down.

The UN says more refugees are fleeing the conflict
Acting President Vladimir Putin said on a surprise trip to the republic on Monday that he would negotiate with the rebels if they gave up their weapons.

But Chechen Vice-President Vakha Arsanov was quoted as saying that negotiating with the Russians was useless.

And separatist fighters have carried a number of ambush attacks well inside Russian lines this month, claiming to have taken 100 soldiers' lives.

A rebel website said that 70 Russians died in an ambush on Sunday near Shatoi, deep in the southern mountains. Moscow did not comment.

Mr Putin's stop to visit federal troops in the capital, Grozny, came ahead of Sunday's presidential election, in which he is the frontrunner.


There had been a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing the conflict.

At least 500 new refugees had crossed Ingushetia on Monday, said Kris Janowski, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Although the Russians have urged the 200,000 refugees sheltering in neighbouring Ingushetia to return home, few were prepared to chance it: "There's fear of going back there".

The Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said food aid for the refugees had stopped because federal funds have dried up.

"The food situation is deteriorating every day, but the flow of refugees has not stopped," he said, adding that Moscow owed the republic $14m for humanitarian aid.

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