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Russia: Rebels In Grozny Fighting Encirclement

Moscow, 22 November 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian military officials say rebels in Chechnya are receiving reinforcements in an attempt to prevent Moscow from completely surrounding Grozny, the Chechen capital. The Interfax news agency quoted a statement made today by the Russian military headquarters in North Ossetia that said some 500 rebels since yesterday have arrived at the town of Urus-Martan, about 10 kms south of Grozny. The statement said the separatist fighters came from the mountainous area in southern Chechnya. Russian troops have reportedly surrounded Grozny on three sides and hope to cut off the southern side of Grozny by mid-December. They say the arrival of recent reinforcements means they are now facing 3,500 separatist fighters in the Urus-Martan district.

The chief of staff of Russia'a armed forces, General Anatolii Kvashnin, said yesterday that he hopes Grozny's residents will persuade Chechen fighters to abandon the capital without a fight.

In Moscow, the Emergency Situations Ministry says the number of refugees that have fled Chechnya is now more than 222,000. Western correspondents say the number is increasing at a rate of about 1,000 per day -- despite Moscow's claim that some refugees are returning to Chechnya.