CHECHNYA'S embattled leader sent a telegram to Kremlin officials yesterday stating his willingness to hold peace talks without preconditions, a Russian radio station reported.
Radio Mayak, attributing its report to unnamed sources in the Chechen capital, Grozny, said President Dzhokhar Dudayev had notified Russia of his intent to hold talks ``with a view to resolving the armed conflict.'' The report could not immediately be confirmed.
Earlier this week, hopes for a cease-fire in the breakaway republic had crumbled after independence fighters rejected an offer to negotiate with the Russian government as long as talks were limited to disarming the Chechens.
But the Russians hold a huge advantage in manpower and equipment, with as many as 40,000 troops to only several thousand Chechens.
Russian Defense Minister Gen. Pavel Grachev said yesterday that the Army would push into Grozny to ``seize weapons and liquidate armed formations,'' Interfax news agency reported.
It was the first time a senior Russian official had made it clear soldiers would enter the city, not blockade it.
Yesterday, thick clouds of smoke rose from Grozny's industrial district as Russian bombers roared overhead and artillery thudded on the fringes of the capital. Chechen officials told Interfax that Russian forces were digging trenches three to four miles from the city center.
Airstrikes pounded the city throughout the day. The attacks, one of them on an orphanage, contradict President Boris Yeltsin's announcement Tuesday that he would not order bomb strikes ``that may lead to civilian victims'' in the capital.
``We simply cannot keep track of how many buildings are destroyed, how many people are dead,'' Aslanbek Dadayev, of the official Chechen news agency, said.