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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Team Delays Grozny Talks

GROZNY -- Kremlin negotiators in Chechnya postponed talks with the separatist military leader a day before the start of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the breakaway region, a rebel spokesman said Thursday.

Movladi Udugov said the postponement came at the request of the Russian side but gave no reason for it.

The rebel military chief, Aslan Maskhadov, is likely to meet with the top Russian negotiator, Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov, on Friday, Udugov said.

Mikhailov said Wednesday the Russian side intends to check with the rebels on reports of cease-fire violations and discuss a mechanism for control over the agreement.

The sides also planned to hold separate talks on prisoner exchanges Thursday. Last week the rebels and the Russians traded lists of prisoners and persons missing since the start of the Chechen war in December 1994.

The Russian list included 1,089 names and the Chechen list 1,322, Interfax said. Three Russian soldiers were released Wednesday from captivity in Chechnya and returned home Thursday, the agency reported.

Also planned is a round of talks with Tim Guldimann, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Chechnya.

Guldimann was instrumental in arranging a truce signed last month by rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and President Boris Yeltsin.

The truce was followed earlier this month by another agreement on a gradual Russian troop withdrawal and rebel disarmament, to be completed by Sept. 1.

A spokesman for the Chechen separatists, Vagap Tutakov, told Interfax by telephone from the central Russian city of Kaluga that he intends to prepare another meeting between Yandarbiyev and Yeltsin.

Tutakov said he has been in contact with the separatist leadership and personally with Yandarbiyev, who empowered him to make arrangements for a meeting with the Russian president.

On Tuesday, Yeltsin signed a decree ordering the beginning of the Russian withdrawal, but said it will be conditional on success in peace efforts.

The first military unit to leave Chechnya in accordance with Yeltsin's order was gearing up for a pullout scheduled on Friday. The 245th motorized infantry regiment is heading for its permanent base near Moscow.

Guldimann said Thursday the regiment's withdrawal was an "important decision" meant to contribute to a peaceful settlement, Interfax reported. Large-scale fighting in Chechnya has abated but sporadic clashes have continued despite the truce, and both sides have blamed each other for stalling the agreements.

On Thursday, the Russian military command reported 15 shooting attacks by rebels in the past 24 hours. There were no casualties, it said.

A regional official in western Chechnya, Said Khachukayev, said three unidentified helicopters opened fire on a truck Wednesday evening, killing a woman and a child, according to Interfax.

Khachukayev also said Moscow-backed police officers have found a grave with 13 bodies of ethnic Chechens and Russians shot execution-style near the western village of Bamut, a rebel stronghold captured by Russian troops last spring.

He said the victims were apparently executed before that fighting, which suggested they were shot by the rebels. There were reasons to believe that more such graves could be found around Bamut, Khachukayev said.

Both sides have blamed each other of atrocities in the course of the war, which has killed more than 30,000 people, most of them civilians.