Russian troops marched to within two miles of the Chechen capital, Grozny today and pounded villages across the rebel republic with rocket fire. As they advanced an official in Grozny said that the rebel leadership was ready for constructive talks with Moscow, but that there was no immediate reply.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, met the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, in Moscow this morning for more talks on the situation in Chechnya. Mrs Ogata will be appealing for further co-operation from Russia to provide aid to the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from the fighting into neighbouring Ingushetia. She said that she would also demand aid workers in the region be given better protection from criminal gangs.