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Russia: Troops Near Chechen Capital

Moscow, 18 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia bombed strongholds of Chechen fighters in villages and towns near the capital Grozny today. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov said the rebels have allowed federal troops to approach Grozny. But AFP quotes Arsanov as vowing to take the land back soon with a counteroffensive. Arsanov also ruled out holding political negotiations with Russia, saying Chechnya expects Europe and the United States to pressure Russia into ending the military operation. ITAR-TASS quotes Vladimir Kulakov of the Russian Defense Ministry as saying federal troops are holding their positions 20-25 kms outside of Grozny. Kulakov says the low-lying northern third of Chechnya is safely in Russia's control and is urging displaced persons to return home from the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia.

Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said today there are now 153,000 displaced persons in his republic, including about 3,000 who fled the Russian air strikes on Sunday. Interfax quotes Aushev as calling the situation dramatic because emergency relief supplies from the UN have been exhausted.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin talked about Chechnya with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting today. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin says they focused on measures to give shelter to displaced persons.