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
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
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.
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)
23-Oct-1999 10:28 AM EDT (23-Oct-1999 1428 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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