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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Rebels Sign Deal for Pullout

NAZRAN, Ingushetia -- Russian and Chechen negotiators signed a deal Monday to end hostilities in Chechnya, withdrawing Russian troops by the end of August and canceling local Chechen elections planned for Sunday.


At the same time, the Chechen government has given Tim Guldimann, the Swiss diplomat who brokered the agreement, just days to leave the country.


Monday's agreement lends substance to the cease-fire reached May 27 between President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, and offers the most hopeful sign yet for a resolution of the 18-month old conflict.


Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov and the chief of Chechen forces, Aslan Maskhadov, signed two protocols in front of the press at 8 p.m Monday, afterwards reading out the contents of the agreements.


The atmosphere at the signing was tense, but the Chechen side offered up a prayer in thanks for the achievement for peace and accord in Chechnya, ending with three jubilant shouts, "Allahu Akhbar" (God is Great).


The documents covered military and some political issues, but did not touch on the fundamental question of the war: Chechnya's independence.


Overall, the Chechens have won agreement to virtually all the demands they laid out at the beginning of the talks last week. The Russians, for their set up a system to prevent all shooting, blockading of villages and terrorist attacks on military convoys and columns, Mikhailov read from the document.


A key issue in the military agreement is that local elections will be postponed until after the withdrawal of troops and demilitarization of Chechnya. Elections were to be considered a purely "internal question," Mikhailov said.


The second protocol, on the exchange of prisoners, was read out by Maskhadov. A working group is to be set up in Grozny by Tuesday, consisting of six Russians and six Chechens, to search for all those missing in action and detained during the 18-month war.


Another clause said that all filtration camps, the notorious detention centers where thousands of Chechens have been held during the war, would be closed down.


The leading members of the two delegations sat along a long table facing the press, some 30 people ranged behind them. Guldimann, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Chechnya, who brokered the agreement, and Boris Agapov, deputy president of Ingushetia, which had hosted the talks, sat between them in the center of the table.


According to the evening news on NTV television, the government in Grozny declared Guldimann persona non grata Monday, and ordered him to leave the country within the next few days.


Nikolai Koshman, the prime minister of the Moscow-backed Chechen government, was quoted as saying that if Guldimann challenged the rule, law enforcement agencies would be become involved.


Guldimann is charged with exceeding his authority, at times revising decisions adopted by Chechen legislative bodies. He is also accused of participating in "unsanctioned and often provocative activities conducted by people who have been pronounced guilty of criminal offenses by Russian law."


Guldimann, in Nazran, reacted with surprise and called the statement "slanderous." "It is totally unexpected. We have always had very good relations with the government in Grozny," he said.


Despite the rapid success of the negotiations, which ran all day Sunday and Monday, a mood of distrust still dominates. The armed Chechen fighters accompanying the delegation privately admitted they had little faith the Russians would keep their part of the deal.


Russian officers guarding the federal delegation said, however, they were sure most of the troops were going home soon, although they said several units would remain permanently in Chechnya.


Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, a member of the delegation and leader of last year's talks, praised the agreement as an improvement on last year's failed peace accord, since it laid out a clear plan and allowed for Chechens to hold free elections with international observers.


"We achieved this agreement in just five days. It showed we all wanted peace and accord," said Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and widely thought to be opposed to the agreement.


One sign of the problems ahead was the muddled prisoner exchange Sunday. Maskhadov handed over two Russian prisoners; the senior of the two said they had been held for 231 days. The handover was a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Chechens, and there was no matching gesture from the Russian side.


The Russians then announced that 14 Chechens had been released in Shali on Sunday, but the Chechens, who had been preparing to release 27 Russian servicemen in exchange, complained that the Russians had simply ignored what had been agreed.


"How do we know they have freed them?" said Hussein Khamidov, a consultant on the Chechen side on prisoners. "The talks are going on here, it is here that they should release them."


Finally Monday, they also handed over 14 Russian prisoners, saying they took the Russians at their word.


Late Monday night, the Russians confirmed that 14 Russian servicemen had been released.