Russia `poised' to take strategic town east of Grozny

RUSSIA SAID its forces were poised to capture a town on the outskirts of the Chechen capital, Grozny, yesterday amid reports of a major upsurge in fighting in southern heartland of the breakaway republic.

The Russian defence minister, Igor Sergeyev, said troops would capture the strategic town of Argun, to the east ofrebel-held Grozny, within two or three days. It would be the third major town under their control. He also said the operation against Islamic militants in Chechnya should last no longer than three more months.

Rebels said fierce battles were under way in and near villages on the eastern approach to Argun, and the western approach to Grozny. The Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported that Argun's residents had asked the troops to stop shelling their community, saying they had already chased out Islamic fighters.

Chechen refugees arriving in the neighbouring province of Ingushetia said that Russian troops were storming villages around Grozny, killing or wounding many civilians. Dasha Dudayeva, a refugee from from Alkhan Yurt, six miles from Grozny, said: "Over the last two days they have been storming my village. There are many dead and wounded, but they haven't taken it yet." (Reuters)

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