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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Refugees To Vote in Elections

Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, back in Moscow on Friday after a day of talks in Chechnya, said presidential and parliamentary elections in the north Caucasian republic, scheduled for Jan. 27, would go ahead as planned.

The Russian and Chechen sides had also agreed that 350,000 residents of Chechnya who had fled the republic during the 21-month war should be permitted to vote, Rybkin told a press conference Friday, adding that the Chechen Electoral Commission would prepare a list of voters by the end of the week.

Tens of thousands of Chechens fled to the neighboring regions of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Stavropolsky Krai, while others went further afield to various cities in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The possibility was discussed of setting up polling centers for the Chechen elections in Volgograd, Astrakhan and Voronezh regions in Russia, said Rybkin. Other locations to be considered for polling centers are Odessa and the Crimea in Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan.

There are six candidates so far contesting for the post of president: Chechen Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov; Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev; First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov; former chairman of the Chechen parliament Yusup Soslambekov; commander of the central front Shamil Basayev; and commander of the northwestern front Vakha Arsanov, whom Maskhadov on Friday invited to be his running mate.

Observers from international and non-governmental organizations would be invited to monitor the elections, Rybkin said, mentioning the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe.

"Of course, if you go by international standards, a militarized republic cannot be a place to hold elections," he said.

The joint Chechen and Russian local security forces that are currently operating in Chechnya's 14 districts would be transformed into police departments, he said.

The last two brigades of federal troops are currently being withdrawn from Chechnya in line with a presidential decree issued last week designed to prepare the ground for a final peace settlement.

Chechen leaders have said that the troop pullout must be completed before the elections to ensure conditions for an impartial ballot.

The Chechen side has promised safe passage for the withdrawing troops but the Russian military have complained that some soldiers have been robbed and harassed on their way out of Chechnya.

Rybkin also said that a number of measures were being taken to restore the republic's ruined economy, including the reopening of Grozny's Severny airport, now known as Sheikh Mansur Airport after a Chechen national leader of the 18th century.

The first scheduled flight to fly from the airport to Moscow in months was due to leave Grozny on Friday, he said.

"Peaceful life will return step by step," said Rybkin.

The Security Council secretary's spokesman, Igor Ignatyev, said Thursday that Moscow will deliver 62 billion rubles ($11.2 million) to Chechnya by Dec. 15 to pay pensions and other social assistance, according to The Associated Press.