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The BBC's James Rodgers
"Rebel attack is a constant threat"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Chechnya: Destruction defying description
Russian soldiers in armoured personnel carrier in Chechnya
Threat of ambush is constant
By James Rodgers

Flying over the mountains of the north Caucasus in a Russian army helicopter gives you a clear idea of the harshness of the terrain.

The Chechen rebel fighters are at home among the cliffs and gorges which have so far remained unconquered by the Kremlin's forces.

No soldier I spoke to thought the war would be over soon

The pilots fly low in especially dangerous areas.

The closer to the ground they are, the less time there is for an enemy to take aim and fire.

Even in those regions which the Russians have controlled for months, the threat of ambush remains constant.

Anyone is a target

Killed in Chechnya: Deputy civilian administrator, Sergei Zverev
Sergei Zverev - killed by rebels
The Chechen rebels have a proven ability to strike at the Federal Army in areas Moscow claims to control.

At the end of May, the deputy civilian administrator in Chechnya, Sergei Zverev, and the Moscow-appointed deputy mayor of the capital Grozny, Nusreda Khabuseyeva were killed in an attack.

The soldiers know that if senior officials, accompanied by armed guards, are not safe, then the danger is even greater for them.

James Rodgers travelled with the Russian army in Grozny
James Rodgers travelled with the Russian army in Grozny
I was taken to an Army position in the Botlikh region of Dagestan.

The mountains which towered above the tents and rocket launchers marked the border with Chechnya.

It was here that the Chechen rebels mounted the attack which began the war in August last year.

Helicopter gunships took off from a stony runway, the only flat area in sight.

The position was calm the day I visited, but the troops have no illusions.

Their enemy could be concealed anywhere in the mountains above, ready to mount a surprise attack.

No end in sight

A Grozny cinema lies in ruins
A Grozny cinema lies in ruins
The commanding officer, Major General Georgy Iliadze, says that the conflict could go on for a long time yet.

"We've beaten the main bands, but we'll be fighting small groups for a minimum of another year or two," he says.

No soldier I spoke to thought the war would be over soon. The Kremlin's promises of a quick victory ring hollow.

The next day we travelled to the capital of Chechnya, Grozny.

Grozny in ruins

The scale of destruction defies description. People seeing the ruins for the first time silently stare, open-mouthed in astonishment.

I covered the first Chechen war in the mid 1990's. I thought then that no city could be more destroyed.

Five years later, Grozny is. In the centre, few buildings are still standing, and none is undamaged.

When we say it's time to leave, it's time to leave

Senior Russian officer to a group of journalists
The Russian army will only take correspondents there for a few hours during the morning.

You travel in on an armoured personnel carrier, in the company of heavily armed troops.

We were told by the senior officer before our departure:

'The situation in Grozny is difficult. For your security, don't leave the group. And when we say it's time to leave, it's time to leave.'

As one woman explained, the reason for their concern was apparent once we arrived.

Traders attempt to do business in ffront of destroyed buildings in the Chechen capital
Market traders in front of destroyed buildings in the Chechen capital
"As soon as night falls, the war starts again,"

Groups of rebel fighters either sneak into the city, or emerge from hiding places in the ruins, to attack Russian guard posts.

Local residents say that the hours of darkness are filled with the sound of gunfire.

In these conditions, the Russian authorities' attempt to bring life back to normal is severely hampered.

With talks with the rebels ruled out by the Kremlin, and no conclusive military solution in sight, Chechnya is beginning to look increasingly like a huge fortress.

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See also:

31 May 00 | Europe
Top Russians killed in Chechnya
11 May 00 | Europe
Russian convoy hit by rebels
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