Yeltsin vows to stamp out Chechen rebels

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The Independent Online

The Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, defended the military operation against Islamic rebels in Chechnya yesterday in his first public speech about the conflict, while Russian tanks and troops battled their way closer to Grozny and rockets tore into the city in the heaviest onslaught so far.

The Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, defended the military operation against Islamic rebels in Chechnya yesterday in his first public speech about the conflict, while Russian tanks and troops battled their way closer to Grozny and rockets tore into the city in the heaviest onslaught so far.

"We want to stamp out this centre of international terrorism in Chechnya once and for all," Mr Yeltsin said at a televised awards ceremony in the Kremlin. "Russian soldiers and officers are restoring peace and calm to the much-suffering territory of the Chechen republic."

Government forces meanwhile continued their relentless advance toward Grozny from three sides, taking up positions within four miles of the city. Air raids were mounted against Grozny, and reconnaissance units on the ground were said to be testing rebel defences near the village of Katayama, on the northern outskirts of the capital.

Units advancing from the west also engaged rebel forces at Gudermes, the separatist republic's second largest city about 20 miles from Grozny. Heavy artillery fire and air bombardments were reported there.

Despite the rapid advance of Russian forces, both the government and military have ruled out a full-blown storming of the Chechen capital.

The Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov, said the Russian rocket attack on central Grozny last week claimed 282 lives, news agencies reported from the city.

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