Chechnya returns to haunt Yeltsin

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The Independent Online
When - or, rather, if - Boris Yeltsin fulfils his stated intention of returning to work in the Kremlin this afternoon after nearly a fortnight off sick, he will find an all-too-familiar problem sitting in his in-tray: trouble brewing in Chechnya.

Tensions in the Caucasus have risen sharply after scores of armed fighters attacked a Russian tank battalion in the republic of Dagestan, seized six hostages, and reportedly torched several vehicles. The two-hour gun battle was one of the most serious outbreaks of violence in the region for some months. It happened near Buynaksk, 30 miles from the republic's border with Chechnya.

The assault came after two detectives from Scotland Yard returned to Moscow after a brief visit to the region to try to negotiate the freedom of the British hostages, Jon James and Camilla Carr, who were abducted in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, more than five months ago.

Mr Yeltsin plans to visit the region early next year. Chechnya's president, Aslan Maskhadov, has said he would meet Mr Yeltsin only to discuss the republic's full sovereignty.