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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Premier Says Ready to Join In Talks

Combined Reports

GROZNY -- Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has offered to take part in peace talks between Chechen and Russian officials, negotiators said Thursday, in a move that could signal a new commitment to end the six-month war in the Caucasus republic.

Chernomyrdin has been less hawkish on the war than many Kremlin officials and his personal involvement in the talks, following his decisive intervention to end the recent hostage crisis in the southern city of Budyonnovsk, could prove important.

As the talks recessed for the day, there was no word on whether the talks would move to Moscow or continue in Grozny, the devastated Chechen capital.

In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin told his Security Council that the talks "have shown the correctness of the steps taken to settle the conflict in Chechnya."

But Yeltsin also struck a tough note, saying that Russia's capitulation to the demands of the Chechen hostage takers in Budyonnovsk had encouraged some rebels to fight on.

Negotiators said in a joint statement that they had concentrated Thursday on political issues such as how to create the conditions for free elections in Chechnya.

"There is a friendly atmosphere in which all sides are trying to find peaceful resolutions to all questions," said Usman Imayev, the top Chechen negotiator.

But insiders said the question of Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev's role in post-war Chechnya was a divisive point.

Arkady Volsky, a Russian mediator with close ties to Chernomyrdin, said it was unclear whether the Kremlin would agree to direct talks with Dudayev. Russian officials have repeatedly denounced Dudayev, who declared Chechen independence three years ago, as a criminal.

Interfax, however, cited a Russian negotiator as saying Volsky had agreed to talk privately with Dudayev in order to discuss a proposed "zero option," in which Dudayev and Salambek Khadzhiyev, the head of the Russian-appointed government in Grozny, would resign simultaneously.

The "zero option" would also include a presidential amnesty for all those who took part in the Chechen conflict, the source told Interfax. There was no other confirmation of the proposal.

Demonstrators shouting "Freedom'' and demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops gather outside the talks almost daily. On Thursday, they surged toward the building and were driven back by gunshots fired into the air.

Another incident, on Wednesday, also underlined the tense relations between Russians and Chechens. Just meters from the headquarters of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is mediating the talks, Chechen militia officers surrounded a Russian armored vehicle.

The policemen, working for the Russian-backed Chechen administration, wanted the driver arrested for allegedly crushing a local man's car.

"Stay in your place!" yelled the vehicle's commander. In response, the Chechens all cocked their Kalashnikov rifles and aimed at the Russian soldiers. Russian and Chechen officials nearby finally restored calm.

At the Security Council Thursday, Yeltsin raised the question of ethnic relations in Chechnya.

"We haven't yet worked out guarantees of the rights of ethnic Russians living in the Chechen republic and of their equal participation in the power structures," he said. He also raised the potentially explosive issue of Cossack demands for two Russian-dominated regions to be split from the republic.

The peace talks began in Grozny last week after Chechen gunmen seized some 2,000 hostages in Budyonnovsk and demanded that Russia declare a cease-fire and resume negotiations.

Meanwhile, a Council of Europe report released Thursday slammed Russia for continued indiscriminate bombing and deliberate human rights abuses in the war in Chechnya.

The report cited widespread beatings, arson, armed robberies, looting, extortion and destruction as well as massacres and rapes by Russian troops.

"Criminal acts may be described as a deliberate policy of the federal Russian command," it concluded.

Most complaints centered on special units of the Russian Interior Ministry. The report also cited human rights abuses by Chechen rebels accused of using civilians as live shields.

But Chechen abuses were on a smaller scale, the report said, and did not appear to be part of a deliberate policy.

The report was based on eyewitness reports and interviews with representatives of international organizationsl.

On the ground in Chechnya, agencies reported several Russian checkpoints came under fire Wednesday night, and that Russian forces had attacked a column of cars carrying rebels, killing three and taking one prisoner.

The commander of Russia's Interior Ministry forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Anatoly Shirokov, said there were signs the rebels were using the cease-fire to reverse an earlier retreat.