Pro-Russian Chechens join battle

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The bloody war in Chechnya has entered a new phase, as Chechens opposed to Dzhokhar Dudayev turn their guns on the Chechen President's shrinking army.

Anti-Dudayev Chechens who support the Russians are blowing up bridges in Grozny, cutting off the escape route used by pro-Dudayev forces to flee the capital where Russians increasingly hold sway.

After the destruction of two bridges by rival Chechens, members of the Opolcheniye Militia, loyal to President Dudayev, guarded other river crossings, checking vehicles for arms and explosives. The Russians had left the bridges intact to encourage President Dudayev's forces to leave the city.

Chechen fighters in Grozny and the surrounding villages remain ostensibly loyal to President Dudayev. But, the surrounding Nadterechny region, the flat country either side of the River Terek, is controlled by the opposition. Their forces, assisted by theRussians, have penetrated the Chechen enclave round Grozny.

General Dudayev, whose support appears to be dwindling as the Russians eat into Grozny and the surrounding area, was in sombre mood yesterday, expressing regret for failing to protect his people from the Russian forces. "My heart aches for those destitute whom I could not defend," he said, in a rare radio interview.

He denied that a Russian military victory was near. "The Russian troops do not control anything. They have simply massed in various places and are completely surrounded," he said.

Referring to his son, Avlur, who was reported to have been killed in Grozny earlier this month, Mr Dudayev said: "I have received information that he is dead, but I myself have not seen him. I have other worries apart from Avlur ... I have 30,000 innocent civilian victims. I don't only have Avlur to worry about."

Mr Dudayev must be worried by the Chechen forces who oppose him. "We've found Russian arms, Russian body armour and Russian supplies on members of the opposition," said one Chechen fighter. "They're all around. It means you have to be careful of opposition snipers."

He said that the opposition was trying to stop all kinds of supplies from getting into Grozny, including arms, ammunition and food.

Inside the city, the Russian army has continued its drive to the south-west. The large armoured forces of Lieutenant-General Leonid Rokhlin's VIII Corps were reported to be moving towards the suburb of Chernorechye, where small-arms fire could be heard.

"The front line is 500 metres from that building", said one Chechen fighter. "They've been shelling us all night". The Russians used mortars and Vasilyok - a rapid-firing mortar. Mortars are short-range weapons, so their use suggested that the Russian army had advanced a considerable distance during the preceding day.

The front lines remain unclear. Chechen fighters showed one of two Russian trucks, escorted by an armoured personnel carrier. They said that it had got lost while the crews were drunk and had driven through the part of the city held by Chechens under cover of a Muslim flag. The trucks had been loaded with booty including children's clothes, women's underwear and food. They were rumbled at Alkhan Yurt, a few miles from the city. The Chechens shot out the tyres, holed the fuel tanks, killed six R ussians and took two prisoners.