Yeltsin to talk peace with rebel leader

Chechen conflict: Kremlin welcomes offer by Dudayev's successor to come to Moscow
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The Independent Online
Chechnya's new leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, will travel to Moscow soon for peace talks, saving President Boris Yeltsin from making a trip to Grozny, which his aides said was too dangerous.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which mediated peace talks between Russia and the Chechens last summer, announced that the latest attempt to end the 17-month conflict would take place before next month's presidential elections.

"A meeting will take place in the very near future," said Tim Guldimann, the OSCE's chief representative in Grozny. "The OSCE will accompany Yandarbiyev to Moscow and will take part in the talks."

A Kremlin spokesman confirmed the OSCE's statement. "President Boris Yeltsin guarantees the security of Yandarbiyev himself and members of his delegation," he said. Sergei Stepashin, the secretary of a state commission which Mr Yeltsin set up in March to seek a settlement in Chechnya, hailed the agreement to talk as a "great breakthrough" and said it was not connected with the President's campaign for re-election.

But the talks can hardly be seen outside the context of the elections, as Russians have made clear that they view Chechnya as the number one issue. Mr Yeltsin regrets having intervened militarily in Chechnya in December 1994. He knows his career hangs on finding peace and he has said he was prepared to go to Grozny to seek a solution.

But his security advisers said they knew of assassination plots against him. Chechen militants were said to be renting flats along the road from Grozny airport, for use by snipers. His safety could not be guaranteed. Mr Yandarbiyev advised likewise. He would not order any attacks on Mr Yeltsin, he said, but he could not be sure a lone gunman would not seek revenge for all the killing and destruction in Chechnya.

The guerrilla Shamil Basayev, who led a raid on a hospital in southern Russia last summer, said that if Mr Yeltsin entered Chechnya, he would not leave it.

Mr Yandarbiyev, who succeeded the separatist leader, General Dzhokhar Dudayev, after he was killed in a rocket attack in April, is swallowing a considerable amount of Chechen pride to come to Moscow. Earlier, he had said he would only take part in peace talks if the Yeltsin administration proved it had not ordered the killing of Dudayev, thought to have been the work of army hardliners enraged by a Chechen attack on a Russian convoy.

On the ground yesterday, the Russian army claimed it had flushed Chechen rebels out of a former Soviet nuclear-missile base where they had resisted federal forces for over a year.General Gennady Troshin said his 58th army was just mopping up, after ejecting the rebels from four silos at the base near the western village of Bamut.

The latest battle produced a death toll of at least 40 among Russian servicemen - bad news on which Mr Yeltsin's Communist opponents immediately sought to capitalise.