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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Negotiators Struggle for Accord at Peace Talks

GROZNY -- Chechen and Russian negotiators at the Grozny peace talks fought to keep the momentum of the last few weeks going to reach a political agreement by Wednesday evening as scheduled. But despite hints of progress from both sides, by evening no breakthrough had been announced.


The chief Chechen delegate Usman Imayev, asked if the two sides were moving closer, smiled and said, "There is movement closer but opposition remains," Itar-Tass reported.


Russian delegate Vladimir Zorin said the negotiations, which continued through lunch, were "intensive and productive," Itar-Tass said.


The Russian delegation gave no details on arriving for the talks Wednesday morning, after a near sleepless night. Discussions all day Tuesday had produced no agreement nor the usual daily joint statement.


Russian negotiator Arkady Volsky said his team spent most of the night reviewing documents, trying to narrow differences between the Russian and Chechen positions.


"There wasn't much time to sleep last night," Volsky told reporters as the morning session began.


They were tackling the toughest obstacle of the talks: the status of Chechnya. The Chechen side is demanding immediate recognition of Chechnya as a republic and a subsequent referendum on the issue. Russia is insisting on holding elections in Chechnya and only negotiating the status of the republic with its newly elected government bodies.


Tuesday's edition of the daily newspaper Segodnya described the Russian team at the peace talks as the most flexible of the participants. They had acknowledged the de facto existence of the leadership of Dzhokhar Dudayev on Chechen territory as well as that of the Moscow-installed government led by Salambek Khadzhiyev, while neither of the Chechen delegations would acknowledge each other's legitimacy, the paper said.


But Russian delegate Mikhail Krasnov, appointed to the negotiating team by President Boris Yeltsin last week, showed no flexibility on the question of sovereignty in an interview with the newspaper Rossiiskiye Vesti on Tuesday. "The Chechen side as before is demanding sovereignty for Chechnya, her departure from Russia. We cannot agree to that and offer to discuss the question after the disarmament of Dudayev's bands and after free elections are held this November," he said.


In Moscow, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev echoed the official hard line, saying independence for Chechnya remained out of the question. "The way to resolve Chechnya's problems lies in free elections and the creation of a legal government," Interfax reported him as saying.


The Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy on Tuesday quoted a source at the talks as saying Russia was still holding out for Dudayev to renounce further political ambitions.


Krasnov, a lawyer who joined the Russian delegation specifically to work on the problem of Chechnya's status, said that Dudayev's fate had not yet been discussed.


"But the opinion of the Russian side is simple: Dudayev is a state criminal and must be tried together with mercenaries from CIS countries," he said.


But a political agreement was half way there, he said. Both sides had agreed on the organization of elections, and agreed to invite independent observers. They had also agreed to allow for minorities, in particular the Russian minority in Chechnya, to be represented in government bodies, Krasnov said.


The Defense Ministry said Russian forces came under scattered attacks across Chechnya on Tuesday night.


Five Russian soldiers were killed and three injured when rebels attacked their positions at Avtury near Shatoi in southern Chechnya late Tuesday, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax.


On Wednesday representatives of the Soldier's Mothers Committee handed a list of 689 names of Russian servicemen held prisoner in Chechnya to the Defense Ministry, Interfax reported. (AP, MT)