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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cease-Fire In Tatters As New Talks Set

A new date was set Monday for a start to the stalled peace talks in Chechnya, but as Russian forces shelled Chechen rebel positions and six Russian servicemen were reported killed, the three-day-old cease-fire appeared to be in danger of still-birth.

The sound of gunfire has barely let up in Grozny since the cease-fire began at midnight Friday, Xavier Laguna, at the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Grozny said in a telephone interview.

Each side blames the other for breaching the truce, on which President Boris Yeltsin has staked his credibility ahead of the presidential election June 16.

But peace talks to hammer out details on an end to hostilities, which were postponed Friday after clashes in and near the town of Shali, were set to go ahead Tuesday in Nazran, Laguna said.

A spokesman for the Russian General Staff in Moscow said Monday that federal forces had been shelling rebel bases for the previous 24 hours, Interfax reported, hostilities that followed fighting throughout the weekend.

"It is clear the cease-fire has been violated and there are reproaches from both sides," said Tim Guldimann, head of the OSCE mission in Grozny who brokered the truce, Reuters reported. "I think there is a keenness from both sides and there are obstacles on both sides. This is a difficult process."

The obstacles, however, vehicles hit mines in two separate incidents Sunday, military officials told Interfax. Federal forces came under fire six times but there were no casualties.

A potentially explosive stand-off in Shali was averted as Russian forces withdrew their blockade after they said the rebels had withdrawn. About 100 Russian armored vehicles left the town Saturday afternoon, Reuters reported.

Tikhomirov's comments appeared to reflect some confusion in the Russian command, right up to the Kremlin, on how to deal with the cease-fire or breaches of it.

Yeltsin on Monday praised last week's agreement with Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev as a "breakthrough" and insisted the Russian side would "strictly observe" the cease-fire, Interfax reported. He was speaking at a meeting of the leaders of the Caucasus Mountains countries where he signed an agreement calling for "international accord, peace, economic and cultural cooperation in the Caucasus," and for more support for refugees.

But on Saturday his spokesman, Sergei Medvedev, had questioned the value of the agreement, suggesting Yandarbiyev had not been empowered to sign a truce.

Yeltsin "has reason to believe that those who participated in the Moscow talks have no real capability of carrying out the promise they gave during the talks," Medvedev told Interfax. "It is obvious that despite his promises Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev is now incapable of controlling all units of militants."

"This means that Russian federal troops will retain the right to an adequate response to such actions," Medvedev said.

But newly released television footage from last week's Kremlin signing of the agreement suggests Yeltsin aimed to demonstrate his toughness on the rebels even while negotiating peace. NTV Independent Television's current affairs program "Itogi" on Sunday showed previously unseen footage at the start of the meeting in which a gruff Yeltsin ordered Yandarbiyev to sit down next to him.

Yandarbiyev objected, saying he had come on the understanding the meeting would be a one-to-one meeting. Apparently angry and refusing to look Yandarbiyev in the eye, Yeltsin stared at the empty chair and barked "Sit down" several times. Yandarbiyev stood his ground, demanding a one-to-one meeting as the Yeltsin's chief of security, Alexander Korzhakov, moved in.

After a few words from Guldimann, Yeltsin took a seat half way down the table. Yandarbiyev moved to sit opposite him, flanked by his team.

The message of both "Itogi" and Medvedev was aimed at the military and the public vote, according to Viktor Keremenyuk, a political analyst at the USA/Canada Institute.

Sergei Slipchenko, spokesman at the government commission on Chechnya in Moscow, said the Chechens agreed to a new date for peace talks Monday after protracted negotiations.

The Russian delegation would leave Moscow for Nazran on Tuesday, Itar-Tass reported. The talks are to continue Wednesday.

"The aim was to show that while Yeltsin has finally recognized the Chechen fighters, at the same time he was imperative and tough," Keremenyuk said.

Through Medvedev Yeltsin has told the military "he is making a deal from a position of strength, and at the same time your hands are not tied," he said.

The suggestion that the Chechen leader cannot control his fighters was also a precaution in case the cease-fire collapses before the election.

"In a way he becomes a hostage of the radicals on both sides -- his image as a peacemaker could be damaged," he said.