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Chechen peace talks go nowhere

The first serious attempt to reach a negotiated settlement of the five- month war in Chechnya failed yesterday. The Chechen representative left talks in Grozny, complaining that the Russians were "not ready to stop murdering peaceful civilians".

A future meeting was promised but the participants lacked the confidence to set a date. Peace prospects had never been bright, despite the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), chaired by Hungary, throwing its weight behind the negotiations. On the eve of the talks, Russian troops and Chechen rebels clashed, not only in the countryside but on the streets of the capital, Grozny, which Moscow believed it had subdued in February.

The two sides did manage a ceasefire for the four hours during which their representatives faced each other at the OSCE's Grozny office but that appeared to be about the only achievement. Yesterday's talks might have stood a better chance of success had the Chechen leader, General Dzhokhar Dudayev, attended, as the OSCE earlier this week announced he would. But the rebel general was sceptical of Russian promises of a safe passage and he chose to be represented by Usman Imayev, the former Chechen state prosecutor. There was no evidence that either side had changed its conditions for peace. While the talks took place, Chechen women protested about the thousands of civilian casualties.

Now the negotiations have ended, there is little to stop the Russians renewing their assault on the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, where the rebels have set up their stronghold.