- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 1999

CHIRI-YURT, Russia As Russian air strikes against the Chechen capital, Grozny, remained on hold yesterday so that civilians could flee the ravaged city, the military accused rebels of using the lull to build fortifications and plant mines.
Col. Gennady Alyokhin, a Russian military spokesman, said rebel fighters were building defenses on strategic heights on the outskirts of Grozny, planting mines in the city streets and installing machine guns on building roofs.
However, he also said some rebel groups were fleeing Grozny for the rugged mountains of southern Chechnya.
Russian forces headed toward the mountains, where thousands of rebels are believed to be entrenched. A convoy of about 50 armored vehicles and long-range artillery guns rolled into position outside the villages of Goiskoye, Komsomolskoye and Alkhazurovo, some 15 miles south of Grozny, on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains range.
Unit commander Gen. Malofeyev, who declined to give his first name, issued a stern admonition to village residents: “If even a single shot comes from any of your villages, I will retaliate.”
With Russia under intense international pressure to end its offensive in Chechnya, the military backed away Saturday from plans for a massive assault on the breakaway province’s capital, saying it would give civilians more time to escape.
In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright suggested Western pressure had a role in prompting Russia to hold back in Chechnya.
“They have a goal. They want to make sure that Chechnya does not keep causing them problems,” she said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “On the other hand, I think that they have understood the international pressure to some extent, and there is a sense that Russia is becoming isolated.”
While much of the criticism has come from the West, demonstrators gathered yesterday in front of Russia’s diplomatic missions in three Polish cities to demand an end to the military campaign against the breakaway province.
The largest demonstration attracted about 100 people chanting “Free Chechnya” outside the embassy in Warsaw. Smaller protests were held in front of the Russian consulates in the southern city of Krakow and in Poznan, in western Poland.
The Russian military said there would be no air strikes at least until midnight last night. Russian artillery has continued, however, to target the outskirts of Grozny, and forces have kept up air and artillery attacks on other Chechen towns and villages, sending refugees fleeing west to the Russian republic of Ingushetia, or south, across the mountains to Georgia.
“We are simply being annihilated,” mourned Maria Khamidova, a refugee from the village of Itun-Kale, about 40 miles south of Grozny. “If it weren’t for the kids, I would just lie down and die.”
Mrs. Khamidova, walking toward Georgia with her two young daughters, said her husband was killed several days ago when a Russian bomb hit their home.
Only a handful of people have trickled out of Grozny during the lull in the Russian bombings over the past two days. Russian officials have claimed that Chechen militants were keeping civilians in the capital to use them as human shields. But refugees have denied that, saying those who stayed in Grozny were too old or infirm to move.
In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin indicated once again that Russia had no intention of bowing to Western demands to moderate its campaign against Chechen militants.
“We must with a firm hand stem lawlessness” in Chechnya, Mr. Yeltsin said. “Bandits and terrorists were holding a whole people in fear. Under the cover of national and religious independence, they tried to restore the wild Middle Ages.”
Elsewhere, the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jaber Ahmed Sabah, ordered the sending of more than $3 million in aid to the Chechens, media reports said yesterday.
The minister of state for foreign affairs, Sulaiman Majed Shaheen, told parliament that the money was the first installment of humanitarian aid to fellow Muslims in Chechnya.
Russian forces entered Chechnya in September, pursuing militants who had invaded the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan a month earlier. The militants are also blamed for a series of apartment-building bombings that killed about 300 people in Moscow and two other Russian cities.

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