INDEPENDENT NEWS

Grozny Battle Rages As Russian Denials Continue

Published: Thu 23 Dec 1999 05:59 PM
Russian troops and militia groups appear to be fighting head to head with Chechnen rebels dug into the ruins of the capital Grozny, in spite of statements from Russian leaders saying ground forces would not enter the city.
A recent report from Russian INTERFAX new agency quotes a pro-Russian militia spokesperson Aizan Sultanova who says a group of 1,500 locally armed militia have entered the city with Russian troops in support. They are believed to be fighting the Chechen rebels who are also attacking a larger number of Russian troops surrounding the city.
This contradicts a statement from Russian Prime minister Vladimir Putin who has denied there are any ground forces in the city, which still holds an estimated 4,000 to 40,000 civilians trapped by the war.
In the last few days Russia has stepped up it’s dramatic aerial bombardment of the city and the surrounding mountains where the last of the Islamic Millitants, who want independence for the republic of Chechnya, are holed up.
Russia blames these militants for an apartment building bombing campaign in Moscow that killed over 300 people earlier this year, and is now occupying most of Chechnya in a bid to eradicate “terrorist insurgents.” However the rebels are still strong in Grozny and in the mountains - areas where they decimated Russian troops in the earlier separatist wars of 1995-1996.
Attempting to avoid similar bloodshed this time Russia has used planes and artillery to batter the city. This barrage was stepped up on Wednesday and Prime Minsiter Putin now says he believes an end to the war is near.
Russian Generals have been making hints for several weeks about an “unconventional” strategy they plan to employ to take Grozny. Earlier there were indications that the Russian’s had planned to blanket bomb the city – however a wave of Western protest over the fate of civilians trapped in the city appeared to make the Russian Military back off from this plan.
Meanwhile BBC television reports today carried fresh evidence of civilian massacres carried out by Russian troops, and human rights NGO Human Rights Watch claimed that hundreds of atrocities were going unreported by the Russian controlled media.
In recent days reports of the massacre of 41 civilians by Russian soldiers in one village have been denied by the Russian authorities.0
Western countries including the United States have criticised Prime Minister Putin for his use of unnecessary use force in the conflict and say they are concerned for the numbers of civilians who remain in the capital.
PM Putin’s tough stance has kept him popular in Russia and in MMP Parliamentary elections last Sunday his allies, the single-issue natioanlist pro-war Unity Party, debuted in Russian politics gaining a remarkable 25% of the popular vote.

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