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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dudayev Quits Talks as Ultimatum Nears

GROZNY -- President Dzhokhar Dudayev called off peace talks with Russia Wednesday and urged Chechens to fight to the death, even as the government in Moscow reissued its ultimatum for all sides to disarm by Thursday.

As hopes for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Chechnya faded, Russian jets shelled the outskirts of the Chechen capital Grozny and continued to bomb and shell villages surrounding the city.

Dudayev ordered his delegation back for consultations from Vladikavkaz, in the neighboring republic of North Ossetia, where they had been holding talks with Russian officials, and called on Chechens to defend their territory against the invading Russian forces.

"The soil must burn under their feet," Dudayev said in a national television address. "It's a war for life or death. The current Russian regime has left no other option for the citizens of Chechnya."

He explained his decision to pull out of the talks by alluding to the continuing Russian air raids. "It's unacceptable to bomb populated areas while you have been conducting negotiations," Dudayev said.

In Moscow, the government issued a statement warning that it would use all means to restore order in Chechnya if separatist rebels failed to disarm by Thursday, the deadline set earlier this month by President Boris Yeltsin.

"We confirm our firm intention to fulfill our constitutional duty, to put an end to the bloodshed in the zone of the inter-Chechen conflict, and to guarantee the integrity of the Russian Federation" said the statement, circulated by the government press service. "Those who do not lay down their arms by Dec. 15 will be responsible for all consequences of their criminal recklessness."

NTV television reported that the Confederation of North Caucasus Mountain Peoples -- the scope of whose influence is uncertain -- had on Wednesday ordered a general mobilization of volunteers to come to the aid of Chechnya.

Official Russian casualty figures Wednesday remained at nine dead and 20 wounded. But at least two more Russians died Wednesday when their low-flying helicopter was shot down. A third wounded airman was taken captive.

An unofficial report cited on NTV said that as many as 70 Russian soldiers have been killed in the first three days of fighting in Chechnya. Chechen authorities have not released casualty figures for their side, but an unnamed Grozny spokesman told Interfax that 40 to 50 civilians had been killed.

In Grozny, people were busy Wednesday stocking up on supplies, filling sacks of flour and buying candles and new batteries in the face of what they saw as a probable attack by Russian forces. As they made their preparations, five SU-25 fighter planes made an air strike on the outskirts of the city and opened machine-gun fire elsewhere in the city, The Associated Press reported.

Women and the occasional child were out shopping and hurrying home through the rain, slipping on the snow and ice that has not been cleared from the streets all winter. Men milled around street corners listening to the rumbles of explosions coming from the north of the city.

Apartments throughout the city have taped white crosses over their windows to stop glass flying when the shelling gets close. But as ordinary citizens bustled around the city, Grozny's military preparations were barely visible. On the road north from the city center, roadblocks were unmanned and only one group stood armed with a heavy machine gun.

Men stood in groups on the streets watching with binoculars as Russian military jets screamed over the settlement of Pervomaiskoye just 14 kilometers northwest of Grozny, the scene of continued heavy fighting.

Children watching from an apartment balcony pointed as an artillery flash darted across the sky. An explosion echoed around the valley and smoke rose up from the edge of the settlement.

North of the capital, Russian tanks and armored vehicles moved the south of the Terek River and took up positions along the hills, supported by helicopters. Firing broke out at mid-morning, AP reported.

But in the capital, only one in every 10 Chechen men appeared to be armed, some with old-fashioned hunting rifles. The extent of the Chechen government's armories appears to be limited.

Ruslan Moskhayev, 32, a tractor driver was watching the shelling of Pervomaiskoye with a group of friends. He said he had come into the city to request arms from the authorities so he could fight.

"We appealed for arms but we could not get any, we cannot fight with bare hands," he said.

Russian tanks that had been pushing towards Pervomaiskoye all day were reported to have joined the main column by evening on a ridge above Tolstoy- Yurt. This area north of the city looks down on the Grozny suburbs. Artillery exchanges and tank fire continued here all day where the main Russian thrust has met fierce Chechen resistance.

Some 50 kilometers southwest of the capital, a Russian column stalled, advancing barely one kilometer Wednesday morning. The third column of the three-pronged invasion force was reported to have entered Chechnya from Dagestan and had reached the town of Gudermes, according to one Dagestani military commander.

An estimated 10,000 to 40,000 Russian soldiers, supported by tanks, warplanes and helicopter gunships, moved into the southern republic Sunday.

In Moscow, a government spokesman said Russian forces would be used to block Grozny and disarm Chechen units, AP reported.

But "there will be no storming of Grozny," said Valery Grishin, an aide to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. "It's a densely populated Russian city."

Russian officials have offered to help rebuild Chechnya's economy, restore electricity and send food in exchange for an agreement to disarm. Shipments of humanitarian aid were already being unloaded at the Russian base of Mozdok on Wednesday.