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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zakayev Holds Talks With Envoy In Norway

OSLO — Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev and a senior representative of the republic said Friday that they met for talks on finding a political solution to the violence in Chechnya, in the first such contacts between the two sides in eight years.

Zakayev and Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the Chechen parliament, gave few details about the meetings in the Norwegian capital, and they were tight-lipped when asked whether the talks had yielded any concrete results.

“We discussed political issues being solved not by force but by political means, and I am happy that Russia will participate in this process,” Zakayev told reporters in an Oslo hotel.

Norwegian mediator Ivar Amundsen, head of human rights group Chechnya Peace Forum, said it was the first such encounter since November 2001, when Zakayev met a Russian envoy.

Zakayev represents the moderate wing of the separatist movement and has no real influence on insurgents in Chechnya. But any definite statement of support for the Kremlin-backed government there would be a psychological victory for Moscow.

“It’s a promising start,” he said. “This is not a peace agreement, but it’s an intention. … The talks have been very constructive and very positive.”

Amundsen said further talks were planned in London in the next two weeks with more people involved. He also said other parties “may have been” involved in the Oslo talks.

Zakayev, 50, fought Russia as a senior rebel commander in two wars with Moscow in the 1990s. After the federal government regained control of the province, he fled to Europe and acted as an official rebel envoy until 2007. He was granted asylum by Britain in 2003 and is wanted in Russia on murder and kidnapping charges, which he denies.

“I would like to express delight that this has taken place,” Zakayev said. “I’m strongly convinced that every Chechen person should be well aware of the processes that are taking place and should take part in them.”

Abdurakhmanov, who was representing the Kremlin-backed government of President Ramzan Kadyrov, said talks had centered on “political stability in the Chechen republic and the final consolidation of Chechen society.”

Abdurakhmanov had traveled to Moscow for what Amundsen described as “consultations” with the Kremlin. The Norwegian mediator said the meetings had been approved by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Zakayev rejected reports that he was about to return to Chechnya, which has faced a surge in violence in recent months, saying only that he hoped to go back someday. Kadyrov said earlier this month that he would welcome Zakayev’s return and possibly offer him a job in the regional culture ministry. But there were no indications that Russia was ready to drop charges against him.

The talks come amid rising violence in areas adjacent to Chechnya, including the attempted assassination of Ingushetia’s president. By talking with Zakayev, the most prominent separatist figure still living, Russia could be trying to undermine separatist sentiment in those regions. 

(AP, Reuters)