Hopes of peace dashed

President Boris Yeltsin yesterday shattered already fragile hopes of a peaceful end to the war in Chechnya, saying he would never hold talks with the Chechen leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, and insisting that Russian forces would "complete combat activi ties in coming days". Mr Yeltsin said he had full control over the military campaign , over "power ministries" and over what he said was an unwavering policy of free-market reform.

Earlier in the week, Mr Yeltsin's Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, had raised hopes of peaceful way out of a debacle that is thought to have cost the lives of at least 1,000 Russian soldiers and many more Chechens. These withered yesterday following reports that a Chechen delegation that met Mr Chernomyrdin on Tuesday to discuss a possible ceasefire had left Moscow empty-handed. President Yeltsin pointedly dashed any hint of conciliation, accusing Mr Dudayev of "genocide against his own people."

With a delegation from the International Monetary Fund now in Moscow to discuss a $6.3bn (£4.06bn) standby loan to Russia, Mr Yeltsin moved to calm fears that the war had shifted power in the Kremlin towards those who blame market reform for the disorderin the military.