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Chechnya Peace Talks Get Under Way

Published: November 20, 2001 (Issue # 723)



  • Akhmed Zakayev.
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

MOSCOW - An envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov made a lightning visit to Moscow on Sunday for the first face-to-face settlement talks with a Kremlin representative since war started in Chechnya two years ago.

The meeting between Akhmed Zakayev and Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, took place at Sheremetyevo Airport.

Kazantsev said after the two-hour meeting that the talks "went exclusively along the lines of the recent statement by President Putin concerning Chechnya," Itar-Tass reported. Kazantsev's adviser Mazim Fedorenko said that the two discussed ways for the guerrillas to lay down their weapons and begin a peaceful life.

"The parties aired their intention to seek a lasting peace in Chechnya," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Kazantsev and Zakayev had spoken by telephone several times since Putin in late September offered rebels the chance to start talks on laying down arms, but it was the first time the two met in person. After repeatedly rejecting calls by the rebels and Western countries for negotiations with Chechnya, Putin on Sept. 24 addressed the rebels in a speech outlining Russia's response to the terrorist attacks in the United States, and said the separatists should contact Russian authorities to arrange a first meeting. Putin's peace proposal was the first during the war that started in 1999. He and other officials had previously ruled out any talks with rebels and said they should be eliminated.

Kazantsev flew to Moscow from his Rostov-na-Dony headquarters in southern Russia on Sunday while Zakayev flew in from Turkey, Itar-Tass reported. Zakayev returned home afterward.

"We were very happy with the meetings. We believe the talks will continue and end positively," he said. "The most important goal of these talks was to stop the war in Chechnya."

Russia refused to allow mediators at talks with the rebels, who continue guerrilla resistance after having been driven from much of the northern Caucasus region by Russian forces. But Zakayev was accompanied by a Turkish politician and said in a statement before the talks that the Chechen side was acting with the "active cooperation" of Ankara.

"The meetings were very positive," the politician, Besim Tibuk, head of the small Liberal Democratic Party, told the same news conference. " The Turkish government was informed, but we didn't go there on behalf of the Turkish government. We went independently."

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