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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Deputy, Chechen Adviser Talk

A liberal State Duma deputy met a senior representative of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov on Wednesday, the first direct contact for months with one of Maskhadov's advisers.

But peace talks seemed a distant prospect as a rebel spokesman reported another guerrilla attack on federal forces, and Moscow said it had heard no new proposals to end the conflict.

In Strasbourg, foreign ministers from the Council of Europe were to meet later Wednesday to discuss the war in Chechnya, but will not sanction Russia over alleged human rights violations during the conflict, officials said.

The Council of Europe demanded last month that ministers suspend Russia unless it moved "immediately" to end its campaign against Chechen rebels. Although no cease-fire has been called, "sanctions are not on the minister's agenda," said one Council of Europe official, who declined to be named.

Interfax reported from Ingushetia that Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov, a former justice minister, met former Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev during a tour of a refugee camp. Makhashev is a senior figure in Maskhadov's team.

The report quoted Makhashev as saying Maskhadov was ready "for a dialogue to resolve the situation peacefully."

Krasheninnikov said the meeting could not be seen as the start of negotiations, but hoped it would be one of the first steps in bringing peace to the region.

The Kremlin quickly said it had not authorized the trip.

Krasheninnikov has taken a leading role in a commission on human rights in the region.

But few rays of hope for peace have appeared amid fierce fighting rhetoric and reports of new clashes.

Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said the rebels had launched an attack Tuesday night on federal positions and a checkpoint on a ridge in the Aleroi district of eastern Chechnya, killing 34 troops and suffering four losses.

"The post was practically taken by storm and our units engaged in hand-to-hand fighting," he said. After the attack, federal artillery and mortars blasted the ridge to hit the rebels, he said.

The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, told a news conference Wednesday that no such attack had occurred.

Yastrzhembsky also said that federal troops' mopping-up operations will soon be carried out only in the presence of prosecutors. Chechen refugees and human rights groups say troops have looted homes, beat and even killed civilians during so-called clean-up operations after occupying Chechen villages.

Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council, said Friday that Chechnya will be ruled directly from Moscow until it can find an acceptable leader. A decree introducing direct rule was being drafted and President Vladimir Putin would sign it soon, Ivanov said in televised remarks.

Chechen rebels claim to have downed a reconnaissance jet over the weekend. The Su-24MR disappeared from radar screens Sunday and military officials said it may have been shot down.