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DATE=10/26/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / CHECHNYA (L) NUMBER=2-255485 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian forces are using artillery and air strikes to cover ground troops moving within a few kilometers of the Chechen capital, Grozny. V-O-A Correspondent Eve Conant reports from Moscow. TEXT: News agencies say Russian reconnaissance teams have pushed into several villages on the edge of Grozny. But Chechen military leaders say there has been no fighting inside the capital. The majority of the city's civilian population has fled, leaving the streets mostly deserted. Russian forces have prevented a further exodus by closing the main route leading out of Chechnya into the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Reports from the region say many refugees who want to escape are trapped inside Chechnya while others who want to return to their homes to collect relatives or possessions cannot reenter. News reports say civilians can be seen at roadblocks pleading with Russian soldiers to allow them out. /// OPT /// The United Nations refugee agency is calling on Russia to reopen the border to allow what it describes as "tens of thousands" of civilians to leave the combat zone. /// END OPT /// Contact with Chechen officials has been cut off. One of the last telephone lines to the Chechen presidential administration was not working Tuesday. Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, says the Kremlin fully supports the campaign so far. /// PUTIN ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// Prime Minister Putin says he evaluates the Chechen operation very positively. He says Russian troops are strictly following and fulfilling the battle plan Federal forces continue to carry out air strikes and shelling in areas to the north and east of Grozny. The Associated Press reports Russian forces have shelled the city's airport, but that report could not be independently confirmed. A leading general says Russia has placed a one- million-dollar bounty on Shamil Basayev, a Chechen guerilla leader who launched raids into neighboring Dagestan. Russia considers him responsible for a series of deadly apartment bombings. Mr. Basayev -- in interviews with Western reporters -- has vehemently denied any involvement in the bomb attacks. (Signed) NEB/EC/JWH/KL 26-Oct-1999 18:13 PM EDT (26-Oct-1999 2213 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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