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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Supports Lebed's Peace Plan

Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed at long last received word Friday that his peace plan for Chechnya has the backing of the Russian president, even as Lebed began negotiating the deal in Dagestan with Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov.

Lebed, who spent six days in Moscow waiting in vain to win President Boris Yeltsin's approval for his peace initiative, was in the Dagestan village of Khasavyurt when word came, not from Yeltsin himself, but from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Speaking in the town of Maloyaroslavets, some 120 kilometers southwest of Moscow, where he was visiting a new grammar school, Chernomyrdin said he held a long phone conversation with the president Thursday night.

"Lebed is in Chechnya solving problems right now," Chernomyrdin said. "The main thing is his program. It was agreed with Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] yesterday."

Lebed also said he had spoken with Yeltsin by telephone overnight, but he declined to elaborate.

Yeltsin, 65, is currently on vacation at a government hunting resort 125 kilometers northwest of Moscow and has not seen Lebed since he gave the gruff ex-paratrooper general unspecified powers to resolve the Chechen conflict.

As Chernomyrdin spoke, Lebed was waiting for Maskhadov to arrive for negotiations.

"Today I hope to make a The Chechen delegation arrived at the talks four hours late because, as Maskhadov explained, notification of Lebed's arrival had come late.

Lebed waited patiently for the Chechen side to arrive, drinking tea and playing chess with other members of the Russian entourage, NTV Independent Television reported.

No details of Lebed's political proposal have yet been released, but Lebed said it was part of a peace plan he has submitted to Yeltsin, while press reports say the two sides may commit to a referendum on Chechnya's status five to 10 years from now.

The military deal signed last Friday to stop the worst bout of fighting since the start of the war calls for the removal of Russian and Chechen troops from Grozny by Sept. 1 and for the capital to be patrolled by joint patrols thereafter.

Lebed also promised to remove all Russian troops from the mountainous areas of Southern Chechnya.

Interfax has reported that up to 4,000 Russian troops have already left the capital and an unidentified Russian official told Interfax that only 1,000 Russian soldiers remained in Grozny as of Friday evening.

It appears that a military truce is also holding, with no Russian casualties reported since Wednesday. But the political question is much more tricky, with both Yeltsin and the separatists having repeatedly said that the fundamental question of Chechnya's would-be independence is not subject to negotiation.

In other developments Friday, the Russian general who last week issued the Chechen rebels a 48-hour ultimatum to evacuate Grozny or else he would issue orders to carpet-bomb the city, quit the Russian contingent in Dagestan to start an unscheduled vacation, Interfax reported.

General Konstantin Pulikovsky was the acting commander of the Russian federal troops when he made the statement last week, provoking an angry reaction from Lebed, who was just starting his assignment from Yeltsin to find a way to stop the bloodshed.

So far, the government's responses to Lebed's peace efforts have been contradictory.

Only Thursday, after holding a two-hour meeting with Lebed, the defense minister and other security officials, Chernomyrdin said Lebed's peace initiative needed "a lot of extra work."

But then a Chernomyrdin spokesman immediately added that the prime minister gave his own "necessary instructions on the issue."