Russia opens talks with Chechens
MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian and Chechnya officials have held the first face-to-face talks since the start of the war in 1999.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Chechnya met with a Chechen rebel representative in Moscow on Sunday, Russian news agencies said.
The meeting between Putin's envoy Viktor Kazantsev and Akhmed Zakayev, a representative of separatist Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, took place at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow and continued at a government guest house outside the city, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
Kazantsev told the Interfax news agency after the two-hour meeting that the talks "went exclusively along the lines of the recent statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin concerning Chechnya."
The dialogue will continue, he said, without setting a date for a next meeting.
Kazantsev's advisor Mazim Fedorenko told Interfax 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 said.
Kazantsev and Zakayev had spoken by telephone several times since Putin offered rebels the chance to start talks on laying down arms in a speech on September 24.
After repeatedly rejecting calls by the rebels and Western nations for negotiations with Chechnya, Putin used the speech to address the rebels in light of the terrorist attacks in the United States.
He called on the separatists to contact Russian authorities to arrange a first meeting.
Putin's peace proposal was in contrast to his previously-held policy of ruling out any talks with rebels.
Russian forces now control most of Chechnya, but its soldiers are still killed in rebel attacks almost every day, and a few top separatist leaders have been captured or killed.
In the most recent incident, nine Russian servicemen were killed and 24 were wounded in rebel attacks on federal positions and land mine explosions over the past 24 hours, a Chechen official said Sunday.
Two soldiers were killed and nine were wounded in 10 separate attacks on Russian positions, the official in the Moscow-backed Chechen administration said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the capital Grozny, two policemen were killed and eight were wounded in a land mine explosion near a military checkpoint Saturday, the official said. Another two died later of injuries from the blast.
An army jeep struck a mine in Grozny, killing one riot policeman and injuring two, the official said.
In Urus-Martan, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Grozny, two soldiers killed and five were wounded when their truck detonated a land mine, he said.
Chechnya won de facto independence in a 1994-96 war, which ended with the retreat of Russian troops.
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