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Russia: Chechens Reportedly Fleeing Grozny

Grozny, 26 November 1999 (RFE/RL) - Reuters is reporting that hundreds of civilians are streaming out of the Chechen capital Grozny waving white flags. Russian forces and warplanes began a heavy bombardment of Grozny last night in what is believed to be the heaviest assault on the city since Moscow began its offensive in October. Some reports said shelling continued today. In Moscow, the first deputy chief of the general staff, Valery Manilov, told reporters Russian forces have begun what he called a "third phase" of their campaign to liquidate Chechen Islamic rebels. He said the phase would concentrate on rebel bases in the foothills and mountains around the capital.

Manilov says President Boris Yeltsin is preparing a decree on deploying Russian forces permanently in the breakaway republic. He says the deployment will be carried out within the framework of restrictions contained in the treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe.

In a separate development, Russian news agencies report that at least three Russian soldiers were arrested today following yesterday's attack by drunken soldiers on a kiosk at a camp for displaced Chechens in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. One Ingush woman was killed and two Chechens were wounded in the attack.