Rebel attack on Grozny intensifies
Chechen government retreats to base outside capital
August 7, 1996
Web posted at: 11:35 a.m. EDT (1535 GMT)
GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- Rebels launched a heavy attack on the
Chechen government's central compound Wednesday, forcing the
pro-Moscow officials to move to a Russian base outside the
Russian troops were reportedly surrounded in the besieged
compound in Grozny's center, while the rebels roamed freely
through much of the city. One building in the government
compound was on fire, according to Russian journalists
trapped inside the complex.
Rebels fighting for independence from Russia began a surprise
offensive on Grozny and two other cities Tuesday, reportedly
in retaliation for weeks of Russian attacks on
rebel strongholds. As the fighting intensified, a May
cease-fire agreement was left virtually worthless while
residents of Grozny cowered in basements to escape the
On Wednesday, Russian helicopters blasted rebel positions
outside Grozny with rocket fire, while Russian positions on
the outskirts of the city blasted artillery fire at central
districts. Forces from both sides fired mortars and automatic
weapons at each other on city streets.
Other reports indicated that a column of Russian armored
vehicles, originally on its way to the city from the Khankala
base outside the capital, had been stopped near the city
limits because rebels had mined the road. The pro-Moscow
government moved from the city center to Khankala to escape
Russian officials said more than two dozen Russian soldiers
had been killed in the fighting, but denied that rebels had
taken control of much of the city. The officials said the
rebels had suffered heavy losses.
Doku Zavgayev, head of the Chechen government, was quoted in
news reports saying that while Grozny was under fierce attack
by rebels, the rest of the region was under the control of
"the legal organs of power."
But the intense fighting cast a shadow over Friday's
inauguration in Moscow of Boris Yeltsin for his second term
as the Russian president. Yeltsin promised during the
campaign to end the 20-month long war in Chechnya, but Russia
began bombarding rebel bases in the south of the region just
after the election.
Yeltsin, who had been recuperating from a health problem,
returned to the Kremlin Tuesday for the first time in more
than a month. He tapped national security adviser Alexander Lebed -- who finished third in presidential balloting -- to handle the Chechen crisis.
Yeltsin ordered Russian forces to fight the rebels enough "to
effectively neutralize" the offensive, but Lebed said that
using force to completely end the crisis was not an available
"It (use of force) was rejected because it would have
produced major bloodshed," Lebed said. "The other option
entails peace talks and troop withdrawals."
Peace talks have failed so far -- and Russian troops have
been in Chechnya since they first moved to quell the
rebellion more than a year and a half ago. Blood is being
spilled on the streets of Grozny, and chief Russian
negotiator Sergei Stepashin said that peace talks with rebel
leaders were impossible after Tuesday's offensive.
"The whole approach to the Chechen problem should be
changed," Lebed said, "and a solution should be sought in
Moscow. They should be looking for new approach to the
Chechen problem now."
Correspondent Mike Hanna, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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