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Chechnya: Minister For Emergency Situations Ready To Talk About Grozny Civilians

Moscow, 17 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Minister for Emergency Situations, Sergei Shoigu, says that he is ready to talk with anyone who can help in evacuating civilians from Chechnya's embattled capital, Grozny. But in remarks last night on Russia's state-run ORT television, Shoigu ruled out any "second Khasavyurt." He was referring to the accords signed by Russian General Aleksander Lebed and Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov in August 1996 that ended Russia's first war in the republic. Shoigu said some 4,500 civilians have already left Grozny and estimated that from 8,000 to 35,000 people remained in the capital. Russian forces continued to strike rebel targets in southern Chechnya as well as the outskirts of Grozny. The Russian military's press center said two Russian soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours and 30 rebels. Six rebel vehicles were said to have been destroyed.

Russian military and government officials are still denying their forces conducted any assault on Grozny on Wednesday night. But the German news agency (dpa) quotes (unnamed) military officials as admitting that 25 soldiers in a Russian reconnaissance unit were killed in fighting that night.