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DATE=10/23/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA/CHECHNYA (L) NUMBER=2-255397 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian military columns have closed off the last road out of Chechnya as rebel fighters dig in to defend the capital, Grozny, against an expected assault by government troops. V-O-A's Peter Heinlein in Moscow reports Russian bomb and rocket attacks are continuing to hit towns and villages in the breakaway region. TEXT: A V-O-A reporter in Chechnya says Russian tanks have blocked the road leading west from Grozny to neighboring Ingushetia. The crumbling two-lane highway had been the only link between the breakaway republic and the outside world for the past several weeks. The state-run ITAR-Tass news agency quotes a defense ministry official as saying the army has deployed along the entire Chechnya-Ingushetia border to prevent cross-border incursions by Chechen guerillas. A barrier is being constructed along the road, and no traffic is moving in either direction. An estimated 150-thousand civilians fled to Ingushetia when Russian troops crossed into the region last month. Many of them remain camped in squalid tent cities only a kilometer or two from the border. In the meantime, Russian forces are said to be encountering resistance as they advance from the north toward Grozny. The Interfax news agency quoted Chechen military officials Saturday as saying they had shot down two Russian warplanes. Russia's military immediately denied the report. In another development, a senior Russian commander was shown on state-run Russian television saying an attack on Grozny is a virtual certainty. Lieutenant General Gennady Troshev said the troops would feel betrayed if ordered to stop before taking the capital. Russian politicians, meanwhile, are rejecting calls from the international community for restraint in Chechnya. A comment made by Vladimir Lukin, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, was typical. Responding to U-S calls for negotiations with Chechen leaders, Mr. Lukin asked rhetorically "Why did the United States use force in Kosovo, despite Russian calls for a political solution." Residents of Grozny Saturday were taking to shelters as Russian rockets and bombs pounded the region. A Russian spokesman said more than 10 air strikes were carried out over the past 24 hour period. ///REST OPT/// Also Saturday, Chechen officials confirmed that surface-to-surface missiles were responsible for the explosions that killed more than 100 people at Grozny's central market two days earlier. Television pictures shown in the West told a grisly tale of carnage at the market, which is only one hundred meters from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's office. Many of the dead were women and children. But Russian television mentioned the attack only in passing. Russian officials at first denied responsibility for the attack, but later admitted it was the work of special forces units. A spokesman said the busy market place was targeted because it was used by rebels as an arms bazaar. (SIGNED) NEB/PFH/ALW/LTD/JO 23-Oct-1999 10:28 AM EDT (23-Oct-1999 1428 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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