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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grozny: Shooting Starts as Talks Stop

GROZNY -- Shooting broke out in downtown Grozny on Tuesday after Russian and Chechen negotiators suspended peace talks without signing a long-awaited political agreement.

The breakdown followed Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev's criticism of the negotiators as "hair-splitters' who had not accomplished anything in five weeks of talks.

Dudayev's televised remarks Saturday night soured the atmosphere at the talks, with each side accusing the other of stalling an agreement at the negotiations in Grozny, the Chechen capital.

On Tuesday, the sides announced a "technical'' three-day suspension of the talks after failing to sign a long-debated political agreement on the future of Chechnya's relationship with the Russian Federation.

The talks will resume Saturday after the sides consult with their respective leaders, Itar-Tass reported.

Russian delegation chief Vyacheslav Mikhailov said Russian and Chechen experts will continue working on draft documents during the break.

"The talks will continue. There is a certitude that we will make real progress and achieve the final agreement,'' Mikhailov told Itar-Tass before departing for Moscow.

President Boris Yeltsin, meanwhile, discussed the talks during a meeting Tuesday with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The two met at a health complex near Moscow where Yeltsin is recuperating from what aides said was heart trouble.

Sergei Filatov, Yeltsin's chief of staff, told Interfax that the halt in the negotiations was not expected to lead to an upsurge in fighting.

However, a firefight broke out Tuesday afternoon in downtown Grozny near the former presidential palace, just a kilometer from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission where the talks are being held.

Several Chechen snipers using automatic rifles and grenade launchers opened fire on a Russian military post, then engaged a unit that rushed to help. The gun battle reportedly lasted for more than an hour.

The Russian military command said at least six Chechen rebels took part in the attack, and that two of them were killed. There were no immediate reports on Russian casualties.

After initial progress at negotiations on military and other issues, the sides stalled for weeks over the question of Chechnya's future political status.

The Chechen separatists, who declared independence in 1991, want that independence recognized by Moscow. The Kremlin insists the republic remain part of Russia, but is reportedly willing to allow Chechnya to call itself independent and suggests the question wait until after elections in the fall.