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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

78 Rebels Lay Down Their Arms in 10 Days

VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia -- A total of 78 militants have given up their weapons and surrendered to the authorities in Chechnya, taking advantage of a Kremlin amnesty, Itar-Tass reported Tuesday.

The Moscow-appointed administration in Chechnya said another 200 rebels had conveyed their desire to disarm and officials were discussing terms for their surrender through their relatives, Itar-Tass said.

President Vladimir Putin's amnesty, which took effect 10 days ago, offers pardon to rebels who have been fighting in Chechnya for most of the past decade if they give up their weapons or renounce armed separatism by Sept. 1. The amnesty also covers federal troops, who have been accused by human rights groups of committing abuses against Chechen civilians.

In a recent poll of more than 1,000 Chechens, 56 percent of respondents said the amnesty would help stabilize the situation in the region, while 27 percent were skeptical about the move, Itar-Tass reported.

Sergei Khaikin, the chief of the agency that conducted the poll, Validata, said the skepticism was apparently rooted in previous amnesties, which were followed by persecution against the applicants, Itar-Tass reported. The report did not indicate a margin of error for the poll.

Despite the amnesty and other Kremlin moves, fighting has continued to rage in Chechnya.

At least 16 servicemen have been killed and 14 others wounded in clashes, ambushes and land mine explosions throughout Chechnya since Monday, an official in the Moscow-backed administration said on condition of anonymity.

Federal authorities conducted a new wave of security sweeps in Chechen towns and villages, detaining some 180 people on suspicion of being linked to rebels, the official said.

Local residents and human rights activists say such raids routinely involve arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture, killings and other abuses against civilians.

Several hundred people held a rally Tuesday in the village of Prigorodnoye on the outskirts of Grozny to demand the release of relatives detained a few days ago during security sweeps.

In Brussels, the European Union announced Tuesday that it would provide a 16.5 million euro ($19 million) aid package to help 600,000 people made homeless by the conflict in Chechnya, but said Russian cooperation was vital to ensure it reaches those in need.

"I call on the Russian authorities to take more seriously the obligations to secure access for aid workers to the innocent victims of this crisis," EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson said in a statement.

The EU aid, which will provide food, medicines, shelter and psychological assistance, will be implemented by humanitarian aid workers already operating in central and southern parts of Chechnya.

 Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov is no longer seeking complete independence for Chechnya, his Moscow spokesman said Tuesday, Agence France Presse reported.

"I have held a number of conversations with Maskhadov, and I can conclude from them that plans for Chechnya's separation [from Russia] are out of the question," Salambek Maigov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"He is in favor of a compromise option," he said.