Russians intensify Chechen conflict

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The Independent Online
GROZNY - Russia ordered fresh troops to Chechnya yesterday after a sharp rise in the death toll on both sides indicated that Moscow's forces could be in for a long hard fight.

President Boris Yeltsin, who sent thousands of troops and tanks into the breakaway region 10 days ago, ordered his generals to press ahead and to re-establish Russian rule.

Two crack battalions of marines will arrive in Chechnya today to give forward units more punch, military sources said. A motorised infantry regiment stationed in central Russia's Volga region left for Chechnya, to replace North Caucasus military districtunits sent there earlier.

Itar-Tass news agency said Mr Yeltsin ordered the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, and the Interior Minister, Viktor Yerin, to "spare no effort in restoring the rule of the Russian constitution on the whole territory of the Chechen Republic". Mr Yeltsin

also said the region would receive generous aid to restore its economy once Russian troops toppled the separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Russian forces are still outside the capital, Grozny, although artillery fire echoed round the city yesterday and Russian planes flew overhead periodically. Chechen officials said 15 civilians died in overnight bombing near the television tower. This, a n d a report on Tuesday putting the civilian bombing toll at 120, could not be independently confirmed. Russia's human rights commissioner Sergei Kovalyov has said he has evidence 42 Chechens have died.

In Moscow, the deputy parliamentary chairman Valentin Kovalyov said 11 Russian soldiers were killed overnight when their reconnaissance mission came under fire. Seven members of the unit were wounded and five were unaccounted for.

The Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, said at a Moscow news conference that troops were doing all they could to limit civilian casualties. Asked how long the operation would go on, he said: "As long as is necessary."