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Russia: UN Reports Sharp Increase In Chechen Refugees

Geneva/Moscow, 21 March (RFE/RL) - The UN said today it has seen a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing fighting in southern Chechnya over recent days. The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Kris Janowski, says about 500 people crossed into the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia yesterday. The UNHCR estimates there are now 214,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia. Russian military officials say hundreds of rebel fighters have been killed in the two-week battle in the southern village of Komsomolskoye. Russian forces say they have full control over the village.

The Kremlin moved today to play down an apparent offer by acting President Vladimir Putin to talk with Chechen separatists, saying Moscow did not intend to negotiate with the armed rebels.