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DATE=12/4/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA/CHECHNYA (L-UPDATE) NUMBER=2-256844 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The commander of Russian forces in the North Caucasus says the Chechen capital, Grozny, is fully blockaded by Russian troops. Moscow correspondent Eve Conant also reports Russia's defense ministry has denied Western media reports that a convoy of up to 40 refugees trying to flee Grozny was fired on by Russian troops. TEXT: Russian news agencies quote General Viktor Kazantsev as saying that Grozny is "fully under blockade." Russian forces have been trying to encircle the capital for weeks, bombarding outlying towns with air and artillery attacks. Russian military sources say nearly five-thousand Chechen militants are entrenched in Grozny and ready to defend the capital. Chechen military commanders have said Russian forces were gaining territory in the breakaway republic and that their fighters had pulled out of several strategic towns. The Russian defense ministry has denied Western media reports that federal troops fired on a refugee convoy outside Grozny on Friday. The reports quoted injured refugees at a hospital in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia as saying several dozen civilians were killed when Russian soldiers opened fire at close range on their convoy of vehicles. A defense ministry statement called the reports "disinformation." The Russian military has consistently denied reports of civilian casualties. The Interfax news agency quotes a statement by the Russian military as saying federal forces had destroyed several dozens cars carrying rebel fighters as they drove along a highway south of Grozny. Russian commanders had said they wanted to encircle Grozny by mid-December, but did not want to storm the capital. Thousands of Russian troops died in ground battles against Chechen guerillas when they tried to seize Grozny during the 1994-1996 Chechen war. (Signed) NEB/EC/DW/JP 04-Dec-1999 11:26 AM EDT (04-Dec-1999 1626 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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