Guerrillas in Chechnya have denied that Russian forces have begun fighting in the capital, Grozny. Russia's offensive in the breakaway southern republic is said to have reached a critical phase, with more armoured columns reported to be entering the territory. Russian television reported that Russian units had occupied a district in Grozny's outskirts; Chechens deny this, but admit the city has been subjected to heavy artillery bombardment.

Russian forces were reported earlier to have sent reconnaissance teams into the suburbs of the capital, Grozny. There have been intense clashes today, and Chechen forces claim they have killed eighty Russian soldiers in separate engagements. Concern is also mounting for tens of thousands of civilians trying to flee the capital, who have been trapped after Russia sealed the border with neighbouring Ingushetia. Russian forces have been bombarding the city from nearby high ground.

The Russian authorities say that some 190,000 people have been displaced during the month long war in the break away region. Almost 170,000 of them are sheltering in the small, impoverished neighbouring region of Ingushetia on Chechnya's western border. International aid agencies have been cautious in their response, partly because they are worried about security in an area where kidnappings are common.