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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian-Chechen Peace Talks Break Down

GROZNY -- Peace talks between Russia and Chechen rebels broke down without agreement after four hours Thursday, and as reports emerged of renewed fighting south of Grozny the negotiator for the Chechen separatists said Moscow was "not yet ready to stop murdering peaceful civilians."


Usman Imayev, representing the rebel forces of separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, made it clear to reporters after a morning of talks in Grozny that no deal had been reached on a cease-fire or any other point.


"The main thing is talks have started and that is already positive. However, from what we saw today, the Russian side is not yet ready to stop murdering peaceful civilians," he said.


But Nikolai Semyonov, who participated in the talks as the head of Russia's civil administration in Chechnya, said more talks would be held once various hurdles had been overcome.


"I think we can continue in the next few days," Semyonov said after the talks. He said consultations would be held with the military, apparently referring to both federal forces and rebels.


"A decision has been taken to hold these consultations and continue the talks," Semyonov said.


The problem could be resolved through a "simultaneous process of disarmament and cease-fire ... this demands the participation of representatives of the military command," he said.


Imayev said the Chechen side was ready to meet the Russians again "as soon as the Russians are ready for further action." But no date had been set for a fresh round of talks, he said.


As the talks went on, Interfax cited Russian sources as saying Russian armor had tried to break through rebel lines at the town of Duba-Yurt, about 55 kilometers south of Grozny. The discussions were held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


It was the first serious attempt to resolve the conflict since President Boris Yeltsin sent troops into the mountainous territory on Dec. 11.


Thousands of people -- civilians, rebels and Russian soldiers -- have since been killed in heavy fighting involving artillery, grenade-launchers and, on the Russian side, helicopters and warplanes.


Sandor Meszaros, who heads the assistance mission of the OSCE in Chechnya, said there had been general agreement by all sides to meet again.


"I believe there is an agreement that we start working during the next round on the concrete modalities of a cease-fire, involving military representatives," Meszaros said.


A crowd of Chechen women , protesting against the Russians and vowing to keep fighting for independence, mobbed Imayev and jeered Semyonov as they left the OSCE building where the talks were held.


One of them, Aminat Soslambekova, whose 27-year-old sister was killed in February by shrapnel, said: "They will never take Chechnya. They may take the men, but they will never take the women. We are a proud nation and we will fight to the last."


As Imayev prepared to leave, a car suddenly pulled up and Chechens loaded stocks of military boots into his jeep, clearly intended for use by Chechen fighters.


Grozny, reduced to ruins by the fierce fighting, was quiet during the talks which lasted for three hours and 45 minutes.


But Russian news agencies reported overnight fighting in various parts of the mainly Moslem North Caucasus territory, despite OSCE hopes for a cease-fire from midnight Wednesday.


Remarks by Lieutenant General Mikhail Yegorov, commander of Russian forces, suggested no letup in the military campaign to root separatist rebels out of foothills in the south.


Interviewed by Interfax in Grozny on Thursday, Yegorov said he had lost eight soldiers with 20 wounded in clashes with Dudayev's rebels in the past 24 hours.


?Russian warplanes and artillery attacked Chechen rebels south of the capital Thursday morning, The Associated Press reported. Sporadic gunfire also rang out in Grozny itself, Itar-Tass said.