Moscow, 16 Dec. 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's military high command today pledged to capture the Chechen capital, Grozny, within a few days but ruled out a frontal attack until all civilians were evacuated. The promise by Deputy Chief of Staff General Valery Manilov came the day after Russian troops were reported to have suffered around 100 dead in a bungled attack on Grozny.
A top Chechen official, Movladi Udugov, said heavy fighting was continuing today in Grozny's suburbs.
The Reuters and Associated Press news agencies say a column of seven tanks and eight armored personnel carriers were last night ambushed by rebels with rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons in the city's Minutka Square, some 3 kms from the city's center.
But senior Russian politicans and military commanders denied there had been any attack on Grozny. They suggested the reports were disinformation, possibly calculated to influence Sunday's Russian parliamentary elections.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chairman Knut Vollebaek visited a Russian-held suburb in the northwestern part of Grozny today. He is trying to organize a three-way meeting between the Russians, Chechens and OSCE.
Moscow is resisting outside mediation. European Union foreign relations Commissioner Chris Patten said the EU cannot carry on normal relations with Russia because of the disproportionate use of force by Russian troops in Chechnya and Moscow's rebuttal of attempts to broker a peaceful settlement.