August 14, 1996 in Nation/World

Chechen Rebels Maintain Control Of Shattered Capital

New York Times
 

There is only one open road left into this city. It is a long series of bomb craters, really, mixed with dirt, mud and occasionally some asphalt. The road starts in the deep woods just southwest of town and it runs straight toward the ravaged center.

The road has no name, but it does not need one, because everybody knows what it is there for.

It is the last, harrowing route to safety each day for thousands of anguished refugees who have been driven from their homes here in the capital of Chechnya by war and death, and it is the best entry route for the secessionist rebels who now reign over most of the city.

The right side is filled with pathetic, broken cars edging through the mud, piled high with boxes and always waving white flags ripped from sheets.

The left lane is for the separatists, often walking in groups of less than 10 or driving in flatbed trucks like those used by many refugees to flee the burning city.

Tuesday, a walk from the nearest village, Alkhan-Yurt, into Grozny was a treacherous journey, with helicopter gunships hovering in the distance, Russian planes screeching across the steel-gray skies and a column of tanks to the west firing rounds at random. But the rebels moved along it, seemingly unfazed.

“They can’t touch us here,” said Imran Agimelzoya, 16, carrying a gun almost as large as he was and wearing a Chicago Bulls cap, as he made his way along the muddy path toward Chernorechye, the southwest part of Grozny.

“The Russians have tanks at every other entrance to the city, but they really can’t stop us here.”

It is now clear that the Russians are losing badly in their second battle for Grozny in the last two years. What began as a rebel hit-and-run intended to humiliate President Boris N. Yeltsin for his failed promises of peace has turned into something like a conquest.

Chechen commanders here say they had originally planned to teach Yeltsin a lesson by showing the vulnerability of a city that has been a Russian redoubt since early last year, and then withdraw after they made their point.

But now, they say, having captured Grozny and other Chechen cities so easily in the last week, they have no intention of pulling out, and plan to hold on until the Russians withdraw from the republic.

“This is our city,” said Akhmed Zakayev, the national security adviser to the separatist government and one of its top commanders. “Why should we leave it again?”

Although the two sides announced a cease-fire to begin today - the latest in a series of such announcements, none honored for long - the fighting continued in the center.

Jets and helicopters unleashed their assault on the Chechen separatists who stormed the city a week ago and have taken effective control of it. Yet there are no Russian soldiers wandering the streets of the city; only the Chechen fighters dare to do that.

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