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Moscow and Grozny agree to another 48-hour ceasefire

Russian and Chechen commanders yesterday announced a 48-hour ceasefire, covering all types of weapons, to last until midnight tomorrow, writes Tony Barber. This builds upon a two-day partial ceasefire, agreed last Monday, which limited the use of heavy weapons. However, Russian soldiers (pictured above) are still armed and guarding the Presidential Palace.

In the meantime, Russia's Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, has told the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, that there will be no more bombing of Chechnya, and that President Boris Yeltsin remains committed to reforms, diplomatic sources said.

They said Mr Kozyrev told Mr Hurd in Stockholm on Tuesday that the West had not done enough to help Russia introduce reforms in the past and should support Mr Yeltsin now .

Mr Yeltsin delivers a state-of-the-nation address to the Russian parliament today which is expected to include criticisms of the military campaign in Chechnya. However, the main theme of the criticisms is expected to be that the operation to suppress the Chechen secession should have been more efficiently conducted.

Western governments have condemned the operation as brutal in its disregard for civilian lives. Mr Hurd told Mr Kozyrev that the offensive risked damaging a broad range of relationships between Russia, on the one hand, and Nato and the European Union on the other.

Mr Kozyrev replied that civilian institutions, rather than the Russian armed forces, were already playing an increasingly important role in Chechnya. Mr Kozyrev, who as foreign minister is not one of the principal shapers of policy on Chechnya, said the Russian authorities were looking to start a "political dialogue" in the Caucasian republic, where several thousand people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the crackdown began on 11 December last year.

The head of the Council of Europe said in London yesterday that Russia would be denied membership because of the Chechen war. Daniel Tarschys of Sweden said that as long as Russia ignored "basic rules and standards" of human rights, it would be inappropriate for Russia to join the council.

Photograph: AFP