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Grozny faces starvation

5 December, 1999

Civilians hide in cellars to escape the shelling

Chechen civilians trapped by fighting in the capital Grozny are facing a humanitarian catastrophe, human rights monitors have warned.

As fierce fighting continues and Russian forces try to encircle the city completely, food supplies have almost run out, according to Human Rights Watch.

With Moscow aiming to starve the rebels out, the threat of starvation hangs over everyone left in the city. Marie Struthers: "Situation is critical"

"The situation has become very critical - they could starve in the next few days, in the next few weeks," said Marie Struthers, a spokeswomman for Human Rights Watch.

"The food and humanitarian situation appears to be almost catastrophic.

"There appears to be next to no food in Grozny, almost no bread.

"Some accounts say people are being forced to walk four or five kilometres to get fresh running water."

The organisation also says those trying to flee the city are coming under constant fire.

'Impenetrable fortresses'

Some estimates say up to 50,000 people are still trapped in Grozny. However, these figures cannot be verified as media representatives are being kept out.

Russian officials have said Chechen rebels are turning their remaining strongholds, including Grozny, into impenetrable fortresses. Refugees are still fleeing The Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov has said his fighters now intend to draw the Russians into a guerilla war in the mountains.

Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships carried out repeated attacks on Grozny and two nearby rebel strongholds, Argun and Urus-Martan, on Saturday and Sunday.

But it emerged they were running into increasingly heavy pockets of resistance.

On Sunday it was still not clear whether the operation was complete.

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