Residents flee in panic as Grozny becomes a battleground
August 11, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT)
GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- As the battle for the war-scarred
city of Grozny raged for a fifth day Saturday, the Russian
government claimed it had gained the upper hand on rebel
fighters, but the separatists insisted they still controlled
the Chechen capital.
Some Grozny residents were fleeing by car,
truck and on foot through one relatively safe western area.
Other terrified civilians were hiding in the basements of
"Most of the city is mined, and there's a lot of aerial
bombardments," said Fery Aalam, head of the international Red
Cross in Grozny. "People cannot move. When they start to
move, they get shot at."
There was fierce fighting in the streets. Russian warplanes
and helicopters pounded rebel positions as reinforcements
tried to break through rebel lines to bolster besieged
government troops. Chechen fighters, meanwhile, fired
rocked-propelled grenades and lobbed makeshift firebombs --
often indiscriminately, observers said.
"They are bombing everywhere, and the children are
frightened," one Chechen woman said. "Why is this happening
to us? What are we guilty of?"
A group of about 10 journalists and an unknown number of
civilians remained trapped in a hotel near the compound of
the Moscow-backed government. Russian officials reported that
government troops had rescued the group, but the journalists
angrily denied that.
"It's yet another lie," Russian Television's Abrek Baikov
said in a broadcast report. "We're sick of lies."
Day of mourning
As the conflict in the breakaway republic continued,
President Boris Yeltsin fired his personal representative in
the region, Oleg Lobov. Yeltsin's gave Alexander Lebed, his
national security adviser and former political rival, the
formidable task of resolving the conflict.
Yeltsin declared Saturday a day of mourning for the victims
in Chechnya. More than 30,000 people -- most of them
civilians -- have died since Yeltsin sent in troops in
December 1994 to quash a bid for independence.
The bloodshed in Chechnya -- and the military's failure to
quell the rebels -- has turned into a major embarrassment for
Yeltsin. The war is very unpopular at home, and the Kremlin's
handling of the conflict has met with criticism abroad.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel expressed "deep concern"
Saturday over the continued fighting.
"Our appeal is unambiguous," Kinkel told the Welt am Sonntag
newspaper. "President Yeltsin must bring this war in Chechnya
to an end, but the rebels must also play their part."
In Moscow, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov told the lower
house of parliament that government forces were gaining.
"The situation has passed the turning point," Kulikov said.
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who also addressed the State
Duma, admitted the "situation is difficult," but added,
"However, I will tell you that, today, now, as I stand before
you on the podium...the initiative has passed to the federal
Reports from Grozny, however, said the rebels who launched
their latest offensive on Tuesday were still controlling the
"The militants are resisting fiercely. There is fighting for
virtually every house," an official with the Russian military
command told the Interfax news agency.
Correspondent Steve Harrigan, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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