Fighting flares in Chechnya
RUSSIAN, backed by helicopter gunships and planes, fought with Chechnya's separatist forces last night, as the two sides started last-ditch talks aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the Chechen capital Grozny.
The talks in Vladikavkaz, the capital of neighbouring North Ossetia, got under way as thousands of Russian troops and hundreds of tanks and armoured cars awaited orders to seize Grozny from nearby positions.
The clash, about 25 kilometres northwest of Grozny, was the first direct confrontation between the Russians and the secessionist Chechens.
Chechen soldiers loyal to President Dzhokhar Dudayev fired a surface-to-surface missile at a column of Russian armoured vehicles sent to impose order on the separatist republic, a photographer on the spot said.
The Russian tanks opened fire in return. They were backed up by helicopter firing rockets and by four war planes, the witness said.