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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Postwar Panel Discusses Rebuilding

GROZNY -- Russian officials and separatist delegates met Tuesday to discuss how to rebuild the war-devastated southern region of Chechnya.

Ivan Rybkin, President Boris Yeltsin's envoy to the rebel region, told a meeting of a joint commission of 39 Russian officials and 31 representatives of the rebel government that he had a comprehensive draft to discuss.

"There is a good basis for talks which should end with working out a joint document," Rybkin, who is also a secretary of Yeltsin's policy-making Security Council, told the meeting.

"This document should be signed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and [separatist prime minister] Aslan Maskhadov."

Chechnya, an oil-rich land on the southern edge of the Russian Federation, was devastated in 21 months of fighting between Chechen rebels and Russian troops sent there in December 1994 to crush the region's independence movement.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, died in the fighting, which ended with a peace deal struck by Moscow with the rebels on Aug. 31.

Rybkin made clear that Russia was not ready to foot the entire bill for reconstruction.

"When two are fighting in a china shop, both have to be ready to pay for damage," Interfax quoted him as saying when he arrived in the regional capital, Grozny.

The peace deal postponed any decision on whether Chechnya should become independent by five years, and Russia pulled most of its troops from the region, leaving only two brigades there.

The peace accord has brought Chechnya an uneasy peace, soured only by individual incidents.

Interfax said rebels shot at Russian border guards in the southern ethnic republic of Ingushetia late Monday and set their armored personnel carrier on fire. Two Russian officers were slightly injured, it added.

The rebels make little secret of the fact that they view the delay in decision-making as a face-saving excuse for Moscow to let Chechnya go.

They have taken tight control of the region and scheduled elections for a regional leader and a new parliament for Jan. 27 -- without consulting Moscow.

Rybkin, effectively admitting that Moscow could do little about the election, said it should conform with Russian legislation, and foreign observers should be invited. "The polls are Chechnya's internal affair, and we have a strong enough legal basis to hold them," Movladi Udugov, a senior member of the separatist government, replied bluntly.

Moscow has ruled out granting Chechnya full independence, and top Kremlin officials hope the five-year delay will be enough to change the situation so that Chechnya finds it more attractive to stay in Russia than to secede.

Rebuilding plans have also led to arguments.

Some top Russian officials have suggested Moscow should invest in Chechnya reconstruction only after receiving assurances that the region would remain part of the Russian Federation, something the rebels bluntly reject.

Others say that if Russia does not help war-devastated Chechnya, anti-Russian sentiments would grow, and the region would be even more reluctant to stay.