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DATE=12/23/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / CHECHNYA (L) NUMBER=2-257428 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Fierce battles between Russian troops and Chechen fighters are raging in the Chechen capital, Grozny. V-O-A Moscow correspondent Eve Conant reports Russia's military says it will take full control of Chechnya's mountainous region within weeks, but accuses neighboring Georgia of aiding and harboring rebels. TEXT: Rebel fighters are putting up strong resistance to Russian forces as they try to edge their way closer to the center of the rebel capital, Grozny. The French news agency quotes a Russian officer as saying more than one-dozen Russian soldiers were killed (late Wednesday) while trying to reclaim the Grozny suburb of Chernorechiye - which serves as the main exit route for Chechen guerillas holed up inside Grozny. The agency said Russian soldiers were calling for intensified air strikes to help support the struggling ground troops. Members of a pro-Moscow Chechen militia claim the rebel capital, Grozny, will fall to the Russians within one week. But a Chechen official says fighters in Grozny have enough ammunition and supplies to hold out another three months. Thousands of Chechen fighters have set up fortifications in the city and have vowed to fight to the last man. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was undeterred Thursday, telling government officials that most of Chechnya is now under Moscow's control. /// PUTIN ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says that 90 percent of the population now lives in Russian-controlled parts of Chechnya, and that there is little resistance. But, he says, "We will need to exert much more effort to clear Chechnya of terrorists. Our military operation is not yet over." Russia's military says its warplanes bombed targets in Chechnya's southern mountains and on the outskirts of Grozny. But Chechen civilians who were able to leave the capital say there has been constant shelling in all parts of the city. Russia has accused Georgia, the only foreign country that borders Chechnya, of aiding and harboring rebels. Russian military officials say hundreds of Chechen extremists have set up a camp just inside the Georgian border. Georgia firmly denies the Russian charges. (Signed) NEB/EC/JWH/JP 23-Dec-1999 10:28 AM EDT (23-Dec-1999 1528 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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