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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dudayev Defiant As Fighting Rages

COMBINED REPORTS


GROZNY -- Fierce new battles raged in the Chechen capital Friday after rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev and his forces vowed to fight on against Russian troops, despite the fall of their headquarters.


A day after taking the Presidential Palace, the symbol of the Chechen drive for independence, the Russian Army used heavy artillery in a bid to force the remaining Chechen fighters out of Grozny.


But rebel forces were still resisting gamely despite strong evidence the six-week-old war was slipping away from them. Shakhid Atsayev, 33, said he and fellow Chechen fighters laughed when Russians used bullhorns to demand they lay down their arms and surrender.


"The Russians don't even have to think about trying to send a government here," he said. "We will fight to the end, and when we die, we'll send our 10- and 12-year-olds with Kalashnikovs. Chechnya won't be a quiet country until it is free."


Dudayev emerged in defiant mood Thursday despite losing control of the Presidential Palace, which his fighters abandoned after a shell penetrated all the way through to the palace's basement bunker.


Dressed in combat fatigues and looking tired but relaxed after almost six weeks of fighting, Dudayev said the Chechens were prepared to put up with more sorrow. "Grief will come to us from where it has already come," he said, referring to Russia.


"The situation is that the Chechen people is getting used to bombing, rockets and Grad missile attacks -- they frighten nobody, not even children -- and is preparing to send the grief back where it came from," he told an impromptu news conference. Reporters were sworn to secrecy about the location in advance.


In Grozny, Chechens who pulled back and established new positions across the Sunzha River from the palace played down the significance of the burned-out palace.


"Our new headquarters are set up and the fighters are in their positions," Chechen Defense Minister Aslan Maskhadov told a news conference Thursday in Nazran, capital of neighboring Ingushetia. "We're ready to continue our fight for freedom."


"We do not say that we will beat the Russian Army. This would be stupid. But we have the right to die with dignity on our own soil," he told Interfax.


Chechen fighters said there was heavy street fighting and incessant heavy bombardment in the center Friday, with Russians sending in armored personnel carriers and reinforcements.


"There are a lot of Russian soldiers in the center today," said rebel fighter Igor Abdulkhajayev, sitting in a bus waiting to go into the center to retrieve Chechen bodies. "It's very hard to fight now."


He said he and other fighters had captured nine Russian soldiers Thursday. "They were hungry and dirty. They didn't want to fight, and were very afraid. " Abdulkhajayev said they hoped to exchange the prisoners for Chechens.


Hundreds of civilians tried to flee the war-shattered Chechen capital in a snowstorm following the latest fierce assault. Refugees braving the attacks streamed out of the city on a road leading west, determined to escape the heavy shelling and undeterred by bad weather.


About 15 centimeters of snow had fallen on the capital by midday Friday.


Russian forces attacked a market area about three kilometers southwest of the city center Friday morning. A rocket went through several stories of an apartment building, causing an undetermined number of civilian casualties.


Itar-Tass quoted sources in the neighboring southern region of Ingushetia as saying the Russian air force had attacked a bus station but gave no details. Interfax said the railway station, a strategic point which has been fought over all week, was again the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the city.


A senior aide to President Boris Yeltsin said Friday the Chechen conflict could drag on for years with continued resistance from independence fighters.


Georgy Satarov, Yeltsin's adviser on relations with parliament, told a news conference that army units might be pulled out of Chechnya soon but this would not lead to "an end of all clashes."


"It is well known that such conflicts can drag on for years and this cannot be excluded in this case," he said, clearly referring to the prospect of Chechen irregulars loyal to Dudayev waging a guerrilla war.


His comments came a day after Yeltsin declared the war virtually over. "The military phase of restoring the Russian constitution in Chechnya is now practically over. The subsequent mission to restore law, order and civil rights will lie with the Interior Ministry," said a statement issued by his office.


Satarov said the president would give his annual address to both houses of parliament between Feb. 9 and 15 and devote one section of his speech to the Chechen crisis.


Meanwhile in Mozdok, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev hit out at opponents of the military campaign in Chechnya during a press conference.


Referring to human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov, Grachev said: "That --what's his name -- Kovalyov, he is the enemy of Russia, he has betrayed Russia.


Of Sergei Yushenkov, head of the parliamentary defense committee, he said: "This sleazebag (gadyonysh) Yushenkov is slandering the army which gave him education and rank."


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