Russian troops begin pullout in Chechnya
But truce talks on hold
August 25, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 a.m. EDT (1510 GMT)
NOVYE ATAGI, Russia (CNN) -- Russian troops began leaving
southern Chechnya Sunday in the first step of a new
cease-fire agreement in the troubled region, but talks aimed
at completing the tentative agreement were postponed while
Russian security chief Alexander Lebed returned to Moscow.
Lebed told reporters "legal difficulties" had delayed the
Lebed met Saturday with rebel chief-of-staff Aslan Maskhadov
to iron out a political settlement to the 20-month conflict
over the rebels' drive for independence. The two men said
they had found a solution acceptable to both sides, but
neither would reveal any details.
Earlier Sunday, Russian military officials said the talks
were canceled because the rebels had attacked a Russian
armored column and seized weapons.
Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov confirmed the seizure, but
said the Chechens involved were a rogue group, and that some
of their members had been arrested. He added that the weapons
were being collected for return to the Russians.
"This group does not belong to the armed forces of the
Chechen republic of Ichkeria," Udugov said. "The Chechen side
apologized officially to the Russian side and expressed the
hope that provocations will not became a reason for the
negotiations to be suspended."
Plans to begin joint Russian-Chechen patrols in the capital
Grozny were put on hold after the seizure, but efforts have
continued to set up five districts in the city that will fall
under Russian-Chechen authority.
Officials have reopened some roads in the city and begun to
remove bodies from the streets. But few refugees were
electing to return to their homes Sunday.
Quiet falls over city
Lebed's diplomacy in Chechnya has brought relative quiet to
Grozny. There were reports of about a dozen violations of
the cease-fire Sunday, but none serious. Still to come in the
negotiations is the tricky issue of Chechen independence --
the rebels demand full independence, while the Kremlin
refuses to allow it.
Udugov told reporters Sunday that the issue of Chechnya's
independence would "be decided in a referendum, by the free
will of the Chechen people."
Some reports indicated that while the rebels had not given up
their drive for independence, they were willing to wait until
the region becomes more stable in the aftermath of the
The war in Chechnya began in earnest in December 1994 when
Russian troops were sent to the region to quell the
independence drive. The conflict came to a head on
August 6, when rebels attacked Grozny, forced Russian troops
into disarray, and effectively took control of the city.
Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.
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