Russia seals last road out of Chechnya
October 23, 1999
From staff and wire reports
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian troops sealed off the final highway leading out of the breakaway russian republic of Chechnya Saturday, eyewitnesses told CNN. Meanwhile, rebels in the capital of Grozny dug trenches and laid landmines in preparation for a possible attack on the city.
Russian armored vehicles closed the road, stranding refugees who were trying to escape the fighting. The highway leads into the neighboring republic of Ingushetia where many civilians have been fleeing.
Russian forces have been securing all the highways in and out of Chechnya as part of what they describe as an "anti- terrorist' military campaign.
The Russian military denied an unconfirmed report by the Russian Interfax news agency that Chechen forces Saturday had downed two Russian warplanes. The Interfax report quoted a Chechen military official.
Col. Gennady Alyokhin, a spokesman at the provisional Russian press center in neighboring Dagestan, said there had been skirmishes between rebels and Russian troops near the border with Chechnya.
A Chechen spokesman said the city of Argun, 16 kilometers (10 miles) east of Grozny, had come under Russian artillery fire Saturday morning and bombs had been heard overnight north of the city.
Despite more than 140 deaths reported in Thursday's rocket strikes on a marketplace in Grozny, support for the incursion remains high among the Russian public.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's poll ratings run as high as 65 percent, even though the market attack has raised concerns in Russia as well as in the West.
Putin said the Russians played no part in the Grozny market strike.
Traveling in Africa, U.S. Secretary of State said Saturday that she's "very concerned" about recent events in Chechnya. She warned that the conflict cannot be solved by military means and that Moscow should have learned its lesson from its previous incursion into the region.
From 1994-1996 troops waged a war that ended in a humiliating Russian withdrawal and Chechnya's effective independence.
This latest push by Russian troops into Chechnya began September 30. Russia said it was pursuing Islamic militants who twice invaded Dagestan last summer.
Russian authorities also blame the rebels for a series of September apartment explosions that killed about 300 people in Russia. The rebels deny the accusation.
The Russian force in Chechnya is now estimated at up to 100,000 troops.Correspondent Steve Harrigan and Reuters contributed to this report.
Grozny market attack claims 'scores' of lives
Russian Government Internet Network
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