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DATE=12/28/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA/CHECHNYA (L) NUMBER=2-257577 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's defense minister says federal forces have achieved a breakthrough in their march on the Chechen capital, Grozny. A senior general predicts rebels in the city will be defeated within days. But as VOA Moscow correspondent Peter Heinlein reports, Chechen fighters are putting up stiff resistance and claim to be inflicting heavy casualties on advancing troops. TEXT: Deputy Chief of Staff General Valery Manilov says the fall of Grozny could come in as little as one or two, but no more than 10, days. Speaking at a news conference, General Manilov said federal troops are steadily advancing from all directions toward the center of the city, where thousands of Chechen rebels are putting up a fierce fight. ///Manilov act in Russian, then fade to.../// He says "Already troops in the city are advancing step by step to within two, three, four or five kilometers of the center, depending on the direction." Earlier, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said Russian troops and pro-Moscow Chechen militias have regained the momentum in their assault on the capital. He told the semi-official Interfax news agency rebel forces are putting up a fierce fight, but are running low on ammunition. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, however, says his forces are inflicting heavy losses on federal troops. The French news agency reports Mr. Maskhadov appeared on local television, saying corpses of Russian soldiers were lying in the streets after a battle Monday in one outlying district. The Chechen leader was quoted as saying he regrets the fate of Russian troops being sent into Grozny. A Chechen rebel website reported hundreds of Russian soldiers killed in the first three days of the assault on Grozny. But General Manilov told reporters Tuesday not a single soldier had died in the past 24 hours. There is no way to confirm casualty reports, but correspondents in the capital say oil fires are burning as rebels try to slow the Russian advance. An Associated Press reporter in the center of Grozny Tuesday described the Chechen fighters as `confident' and showing no sign of wanting to leave. The reporter did, however, confirm that the rebels are complaining of ammunition and supply shortages. In Moscow, meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin brushed aside growing international criticism of the Chechnya offensive, presenting the operation's three top commanders with Russia's highest honor. At a Kremlin ceremony, Mr. Yeltsin said the success of the campaign had brought new respect to the country's beleaguered armed forces. ///Yeltsin act in Russian, then fade to.../// He says "There were small errors in the earlier Chechen war that eventually led to serious mistakes." But, he added, "the army's conduct this time has been impeccable". Russian forces have advanced slowly into Grozny during the current campaign, trying to avoid the heavy casualties they suffered in the previous conflict in the mid-nineties. That war ended in a humiliating defeat in 1996, with Moscow being forced to withdraw all its troops from the breakaway region. (Signed) NEB/PFH/PT 28-Dec-1999 18:46 PM EDT (28-Dec-1999 2346 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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