Russians turn screw on Grozny

Campaign of liquidating city has turned to intimidation, writes Christo pher Bellamy
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The Independent Online
After almost destroying Grozny's presidential palace before capturing it on Thursday, the Russians yesterday appeared to change tactics, using aircraft to intimidate rather than to liquidate. Russian helicopters flew over the city, broadcasting a messageof "Lay down your arms. Further resistance is pointless?"

The fighting had moved south and south-west after the Chechen forces evacuated the railway station, as well as the palace. So far, no other focus for the fighting has emerged, though a battle appeared to be raging around the Minutka roundabout, south of the palace.

Early on, few aircraft were seen or heard, possibly because of near white-out conditions which would have made flying dangerous and observation impossible, and the artillery fire was much reduced. Only small-arms fire rattled continually round the city.

It was very different from the crescendo of systematic and increasingly accurate destruction which led to the seizure of the ruined palace on Thursday. People spoke of heavy bombs - five tons, and one said nine tons - which scored hits on the palace, suggesting they were laser-guided. "One of those glubinye bomby - deep bombs - went through 12 floors, like this," said Kheda, 20, motioning with her hand. "That took it into the basement, but it didn't explode."

Eye-witnesses spoke of Russian helicopters and searchlights illuminating the concrete skeleton of the building. There was also continuing fire from BM-21 multiple rocket launchers - which the Russians and local people call grad ("hail") - which went on all night. Another Chechen said the Russians had dropped "two chemical bombs and one five tonner", but the use of chemical weapons has not been confirmed.

Rizvan, a member of the Chechen militia, had been in the railway station until that, too, was evacuated on Wednesday night. "They - the Russians - came in the night," he said. The Chechens put up a fight but, like their comrades in the presidential palace, decided their positions could not be held.

Over the past few days, Russian shelling has moved south and west, ahead of the advancing forces. It is possible the artillery units have been registering future targets ahead of time, which would have been useful yesterday as their observers could have seen very little. A freezing white fog hung low over the city which was swathed in snow. By a low hill, south of a complex of oil installations, lay two wrecked cars. They were the cars a photographer had stopped to photograph when he and a driver for anAmerican television station were injured by shrapnel.

South of Grozny, the hospital at Starye Atagi is the first field dressing station for wounded from the city. It is reached by a dangerously open road. On Wednesday 42 casualties were brought there and on Thursday, after the evacuation of the palace, 26. Yesterday there had only been three casualties, one alive, two dead, all women. The dead were lying on stretchers in the lobby. "Casualties don't stay here for long," said Alkhazar Magomedov, the director. "We give them first aid, perform ess ential operations, and then pass them on to the other hospitals in the area."

Guerrilla war ahead, page 7