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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Seize Official, Peace Deal Slips

SOUTHEAST CHECHNYA -- Unidentified gunmen seized a senior official in Chechnya's pro-Moscow government on Friday, amid growing signs that the peace process is in trouble.


Four gunmen kidnapped Colonel Anatoly Lunyov, public relations chief for the Kremlin-backed government in Grozny, from his home before leaving for work Friday morning, Interfax reported. Lunyov's driver and a police officer were shot and wounded.


The incident came as Chechen rebels turned up pressure on Moscow, demanding concrete action by Sunday from the Russian side if they wanted peace and not war. "If Russian roadblocks are not dismantled by July 7, the Chechen side will consider itself free of the agreements," said Mayerbek Vachadayev, a spokesman for the Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov. "Commanders will be free to make their own decisions and act against Russian forces that violate the peace agreement."


Just two days after Boris Yeltsin secured a second term as president, the peace process, which was a major element of his election campaign, looks to be unraveling.


Seven Russian servicemen were wounded when their armored personnel carrier drove over a mine Thursday in Urus-Martan, 20 kilometers southwest of Grozny, Interfax reported.


Two other Russians were hurt in scattered rebel attacks across the republic.


Meanwhile the Chechens accuse the Russian side of continuing offensives and, while they do not want to be seen as responsible for restarting the war, they are pushing for a sign that Russia will hold to the Nazran peace agreement.


If Moscow promised concrete action within a few days, the Chechen side would be prepared to wait, but only days, not weeks, Vachadayev said.


Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev told journalists Thursday, "If Yeltsin wants peace, we agree to that. And if he wants war, we agree to that also."


Several rebel commanders, among them Shamil Basayev, frustrated by orders not to retaliate against sporadic Russian military activity, have insisted they be allowed to answer back.


Maskhadov, widely seen as one of the strongest protagonists for peace on the Chechen side, seems also to have lost patience with Moscow and their representatives at the talks. "If we see real steps, if road blocks close and a troop withdrawal begins, then I can hold back those who have weapons in their hands. If planes keep flying and artillery shelling continues, it means the talks are meaningless," he said on local television.


For the last week, Maskhadov has refused to take part in peace talks with Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov and Secretary to the State Commission of Chechnya Sergei Stepashin who were in Grozny until Thursday.


Some members of the Chechen Peace Commission continued to meet with the Russians but achieved few results.


Yandarbiyev has, however, said he is ready to meet with retired general Alexander Lebed, who is expected to travel to Chechnya next week and who Yandarbiyev called the "most realistic" of Moscow's politicians regarding Chechnya.