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Chechnya peace talks proposed

MOSCOW, Russia -- Peace talks between the Chechens and Russia are likely to take place within 10 days, officials have said.

But the talks will not be on rebels' disarmament, as had been earlier reported by the Russians, Reuters has reported.

Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin's envoy in southern Russia, had said on Wednesday that he had been approached by a senior Chechen rebel requesting disarmament talks.

Russian news agencies had quoted Kazantsev as saying that rebel representative had been Akhmed Zakayev.

They quoted him as saying that the meeting was likely to take place in the next 10 days and would focus on "procedure for disarming illegal armed groups and integrating them into peaceful life."

But Zakayev, interviewed by NTV television, said talks had been under way for nearly a month on an agenda and disarming Chechen fighters could not be a precondition for the talks.

"Disarmament cannot be a condition for talks to begin," he was reported by Reuters as having told the television channel.

Points for discussion, he said, included a halt to military activity and the return of large numbers of refugees.

"If no major events occur, I believe that within 10 days, such a meeting is possible.

"The moves we have noted toward reaching a peace settlement are still quite fragile and they should not be derailed by introducing broader issues."

The proposed talks would be the first contact between the Kremlin and the insurgents since Russia launched its second post-Soviet military drive in the region in 1999.

The issue was raised as Western countries have shown increasing understanding of Russian President Vladimir Putin's assertions that the Kremlin is fighting terrorists in Chechnya.

Putin, in a policy speech on September 24, ruled out any compromise with the rebels and had given them 72 hours to start talks on disarmament with Russian officials.

His deadline had passed with no response from the rebels or Russian punitive action.

Kazantsev had said on Wednesday: "Akhmed Zakayev called me to say that after long deliberations he was asking for a meeting here in Moscow to discuss proposals made in the statement of President Vladimir Putin on September 24."

Saying that Putin's statement had focused on the disarming of illegal armed groups and "the procedure of integrating them into normal life," Kazantsev added: "I think this meeting will take place in the next 10 days." Another rebel representative, Mayerbek Vachagayev, told Ekho Moskvy radio that preparations for the talks had dealt "solely with the format for future talks, nothing more." That drew a rebuke from the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who told Itar-Tass news agency that rebels should "get an understanding of political reality" that they had no authority in Chechnya.

Analysts said that even assuming Maskhadov was ready for peace talks, most Chechen fighters take their orders not from him but from warlords like Shamil Basayev.


• Russian Government

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