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DATE=12/15/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / CHECHNYA / O-S-C-E (L) NUMBER=2-257184 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: A senior Russian general says federal troops could take control of the Chechen capital Grozny within days. Soldiers are already moving into the city, battling rebel forces in several districts. V- O-A's Peter Heinlein in Moscow reports that hopes are growing for direct negotiations between Russian and Chechen leaders. TEXT: Deputy Chief of Staff General Valery Manilov told a gathering of foreign defense attaches in Moscow the return of Grozny to federal control is imminent. /// MANILOV ACT - IN RUSSIAN, FADE UNDER /// He says the question of Grozny's liberation is just a matter of days. The general added that "freeing" the rest of Chechen territory would take a few more weeks. Russian forces already control more than 50 percent of the breakaway region. In Grozny, meanwhile, ground fighting raged for a second day amid the wreckage of bombed homes and factories. The Associated Press quotes a Chechen commander as saying rebel forces repulsed six Russian attacks during clashes in the northern and southeastern sectors of the city. A Russian officer quoted by the French news agency described the situation as "very difficult," and said rebel fighters are well prepared to defend the city. In another development, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov appealed for a meeting with the head of the European security organization, the O-S-C-E, who is visiting the region. O-S-C-E chief Knut Vollebaek earlier said he was willing to mediate in talks between the two sides. But Moscow soundly rejected the suggestion. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev, travelling with Mr. Vollebaek in the Russian-controlled region of Chechnya, called such a meeting "unnatural." /// AVDEYEV ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says Russia does not need mediators, calling it "an artificial formula." Mr. Avdeyev said before any mediation can take place, there must be an invitation from the government, adding "there will not be such an invitation." Russia's minister for emergency situations, Sergei Shoigu, said he would be willing to hold direct talks with President Maskhadov. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin says any such talks would focus exclusively on humanitarian issues. /// RAKHMANIN ACT /// As I understand the situation, Minister Shoigu was talking about negotiations with Mr. Maskhadov regarding the civilian population that is still left in Grozny. It's important to find ways to let those people leave Grozny. /// END ACT /// Minister Shoigu told reporters there may be as many as 30-thousand civilians remaining in the capital, though other estimates range as high as 50-thousand. Those still there are said to be desperately short of food and other necessities. A Chechen commander was quoted Wednesday as saying there are also at least seven-thousand rebel fighters in the city. There is no official estimate of the number of troops Moscow has poured into the Chechen campaign, but experts say the figure is well over 100-thousand. (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/KL 15-Dec-1999 13:20 PM EDT (15-Dec-1999 1820 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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