Russia

Chechens flee Grozny, Russia says quit or die

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By Maria Eismont

GORAGORSKY ROAD, WESTERN CHECHNYA, Russia, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Russia's military issued an ultimatum on Monday that warned all Chechens to leave their capital Grozny within five days or die, provoking a new exodus of terrified refugees.

Scores of people made their way down this narrow road from Grozny after reading the Russian warning in leaflets distributed as troops closed in on both the capital and two other key towns leading to it.

"You are surrounded, all roads to Grozny are blocked. You have no chance of winning," leaflets dropped over the capital read. "Until December 11, there will be a safety corridor through the village of Pervomaiskoye."

"Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and bandits. They will be destroyed by artillery and aviation. There will be no more talks. All those who do not leave the city will be destroyed," the leaflets said.

On the highway leading west from the capital, families came out on foot or by car, telling of a city in terror and panic. Many people, especially the elderly and poor, remained trapped, they said.

Taisa, 37, said she had offered to help her neighbour, an elderly Russian woman, to flee.

"She said she would stay behind because she was too tired to flee. 'If God wills it, we will live,' she told me. I left her all the food and water we had."

Oleg, 31, said he had brought with him an elderly Russian woman he had found sitting by a road.

"I said, Grandma, don't you want to leave? She said, 'How can I? The buses take up to 30 roubles per person, the taxi costs hundreds. I haven't got any money.'

"I told her get in the car. All I can promise is that if I live, you will live. She came with me."

CORRIDOR TO OPEN ON MONDAY

The Russian Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations, Sergei Khetagurov, told reporters in Moscow that the corridor could be opened later on Monday.

Russia said at the weekend its forces had encircled Grozny. Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov acknowledged all roads out of the city were blocked, but said fighters could still skirt Russian positions and were gathering to make a stand.

Iran's Foreign Minister Khamal Kharrazi, meanwhile, visiting Moscow at the head of a delegation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, called for a negotiated end to hostilities.

"We believe that it is vital to halt military activity and achieve a political solution to the Chechen problem as quickly as possible," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Kharrazi as saying after talks with Russia's top Moslem leaders.

An unknown number of civilians remain trapped in the Chechen capital. Russia's migration service said it expected 20,000-30,000 people to flee Grozny in the next five days. Nikolai Koshman, Russia's Chechnya boss, said he believed 40,000 civilians were still there.

Udugov, speaking by telephone from an unknown location in southern Chechnya, said there were 50,000-80,000 civilians left in the city, and "enough fighters to ensure the city's defence".

"All (fighters) who are there are prepared for whatever happens, and nobody plans to abandon the city," he said. As for civilians, "it is practically impossible for them to leave, because (the Russians) have been shelling all the roads."

REBELS SAY AEROSOL BOMBS USED

Udugov also said Russians had used aerosol bombs on targets in the centre of Grozny and an industrial region on Monday morning, killing dozens and wounding scores.

The report, the first of its kind, could not be independently confirmed.

Russian media have suggested Moscow might use the bombs -- which release clouds of inflammable gas creating massive blasts that incinerate buildings and people -- in a final drive to depopulate Grozny.

Russian commanders have pledged to avoid storming Grozny with ground troops after suffering huge losses there in 1994.
Refugees said bombing and shelling of Grozny itself was lighter on Monday than on previous days, but Russian forces were pounding villages and towns to the southeast, the last major area still under rebel control.

Russian television showed troops digging in on Grozny's outskirts. Russian armoured vehicles were shown moving in and out of the suburb of Argun, to the east, which Russian troops captured last week. Officers said they had met no fighters but could not be certain that the town had been cleared of them.

Soldiers less than one km (half a mile) outside the rebel stronghold of Urus-Martan, 15 km (9 miles) south of Grozny, spoke on television of heavy fighting nearby, but said there had been few Russian losses. They suggested the town's capture was imminent.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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