Russia Today - Grozny attack is start of decisive storming

MOSCOW, Dec 25, 1999 -- (Reuters) NTV television said in a report from Russia's main military base in the North Caucasus that a large-scale advance by troops into the Chechen capital Grozny on Saturday was the start of the decisive storming of the city.

"This morning a special operation to free Grozny has started," an NTV correspondent said in a report from the Mozdok base located outside Chechnya. He said heavy clashes between the troops and rebels were taking place in the besieged city.

The NTV correspondent said pro-Moscow paramilitary forces of former Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov were spearheading the attack, launched from all directions. He said paramilitaries were followed by Interior Ministry troops who would comb seized areas looking for rebels in hiding.

NTV said the military assessed the rebel force in Grozny at around 1,500 fighters who operate in units 15 to 20 strong. It said the troops were advancing slowly with heavy support from artillery to avoid casualties.

"The rebels offer strong resistance, but some of them appear keen to surrender," NTV said.

Russia's top civilian envoy in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, predicted on Friday that Grozny would be seized within days. Defense Ministry spokesmen contacted by telephone said they had no information about the reported storming of Grozny.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]