Grozny Assault On Hold

Much of Grozny is already in ruins.

On the outskirts of the capital, many homes have been reduced to rubble and no-one is in sight.

Those who could, fled as the Russians advanced on the city - heeding warnings that the anyone left by Saturday faced annihilation. Many Chechen refugees waited at border crossings on Sunday in the hope of finding their relatives among those fleeing the war torn capital.

Russia has backed away from that threat - extending its deadline to allow those still left in the city to escape.

The Russian army now says the military has no immediate plans to pound Grozny with airstrikes, and authorities have stepped up their efforts to get civilians out of the ravaged city.

But the Kremlin said it has no intention of bowing to Western demands to moderate its campaign against Chechen militants in the breakaway province, and harshly criticized meddling in what Russia considers its internal affair.

"We know ... that the militants are blocking people from leaving the city," Russia's government representative in Chechnya, Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, said Saturday, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. Russian officials repeatedly accused Chechen rebels of using civilians as human shields.

Koshman estimated that up to 50,000 civilians remained in Grozny. Other officials cited numbers several times lower.

"We will not strike against a human shield," Koshman said. Russian officials have repeatedly accused Chechen rebels of using civilians as human shields.

For the soldiers, poised on the outskirts of Grozny, the wait continues. According to Russian news reports, senior Russian generals say the army would wait two to three weeks before trying to seize Grozny.

Russian military spokesman, Col. Gennady Alyokhin, says rebel fighters are taking advantage of the deadline extension. He says they're building fortifications on strategic heights in Grozny outskirts, planting mines in the city streets, and installing machine guns on building roofs, preparing to rebuff a possible attack by Russian troops.

But he also says that some rebel groups were fleeing Grozny for southern mountainous regions, where Russian troops have yet to venture.

Russian forces entered Chechnya in September, pursuing militants who had invaded the neighbouring Russian region of Dagestan a month earlier.

The militants are also blamed for a series of apartment building bombings that killed some 300 people in Moscow and two other Russian cities.

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