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Russians, Chechen rebels announce cease-fire

August 17, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT)

NOVYE ATAGI, Russia (CNN) -- Russia's acting military commander in the Caucasus region and the Chechen rebels' chief-of-staff announced Saturday they had come to an agreement on a cease-fire.

"We came to the general conclusion that we have to cease fire, that there shouldn't be any more victims and that peace should come to this land," said Russian commander Konstantin Pulikovsky. He spoke to reporters after four hours of meetings with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov in this village 16 miles from the Chechen capital, Grozny.

News reports were unclear about the logistics of the agreement. The two sides planned to meet again Sunday. CNN's Brent Sadler reported from Chechnya that fighting had diminished Saturday, but sporadic firing continued. The cease-fire is designed to end a 20-month war which intensified August 6 with a rebel attack on Grozny that left the city largely in rebel hands.

Following a week of house-to-house combat in the streets of Grozny, Russian Security chief Alexander Lebed went there and convinced rebel leaders to begin peace talks.

The rebels announced an informal truce earlier this week, with no comment from the Russians. Pulikovsky later denied there had been an agreement, although he said he'd ordered his troops to hold their fire unless they were fired upon.

Fighting died down somewhat, but each side accused the other of launching attacks. Rebel spokesman Movladi Udogov said that Russian air strikes against Argun, about 10 miles east of Grozny, and against the capital itself, had killed at least five people, including civilians. But there was no immediate confirmation of Udogov's report.

A spokesman for the Russian military told Interfax news agency that rebels had killed two soldiers and wounded two during an attack on the Russian base at Khankala outside Grozny.

Kulikov to keep his job

In Moscow, political posturing was the order of the day for a government that desperately wanted an end to the conflict that has cost some 30,000 lives.

A day after Lebed called for his ouster, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov reportedly received a vote of confidence from President Boris Yeltsin. Interfax quoted sources inside the Kremlin saying that Yeltsin had phoned Kulikov and told him "to continue his work."

On Friday, Lebed -- given the task of solving the Chechen crisis by the president -- accused Kulikov of mishandling the situation and demanded that Yeltsin fire him.

Kulikov

"General Kulikov is one of the main culprits in the Chechen tragedy," Lebed said.

Kulikov's Interior Ministry troops are accused of some of the Chechen war's most serious atrocities. At least one Moscow newspaper accused Lebed of using Kulikov as a scapegoat for the eventuality that he cannot solve the Chechen crisis, but rebel leaders put their confidence in the security chief.

"I trust Lebed because he isn't tainted," said rebel leader Maskhadov. "He hasn't got blood on his hands."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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