Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chechnya, Russia OK Cease-Fire

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chechnya, Russia OK Cease-Fire

Article excerpt

President Boris Yeltsin negotiated a cease-fire to the war in Chechnya in his first meeting with the rebels' leader Monday, breaking a months-long deadlock and bolstering his campaign for re-election.

The agreement between Yeltsin and rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev calls for fighting in the breakaway republic to end Saturday.

But it was unclear whether the accord would lead to the end of the 17-month-old war, which has killed an estimated 30,000 people and reduced much of Chechnya to rubble.

The issue at the root of the insurgency, Chechnya's independence, has been put off for later. And whether Russia's armed forces will honor a negotiated truce is doubtful.

Yeltsin and Yandarbiyev assured each other that their generals would adhere to the agreement.

"We decided the main question: peace in Chechnya," Yeltsin was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying after the agreement was signed by Yandarbiyev and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Yandarbiyev, dressed in military camouflage and a tall sheepskin hat, said on leaving for Moscow earlier in the day, "We come to suggest to the Russian side that the war be stopped and the troops withdrawn.

"I can give an order to stop the war," he said on Russian television. "If the Russian side can do it too, I think we can make the first step."

The war has sapped Yeltsin's popularity, and the agreement appeared timed to help him in a tight race ahead of the presidential elections June 16.

For months, Yeltsin refused to meet the Chechen separatists, led until recently by Dzhokhar Dudayev, whom he had long vilified as a "bandit." But last month Dudayev was killed, apparently in a Russian airstrike. Dudayev's successor, Yandarbiyev, entered the Kremlin gates Monday in a fleet of black Volga limousines. Streets were blocked off and security was tight.

In past talks, neither side was willing to compromise on key demands. The rebels want independence and the withdrawal of Russian troops before they disarm. The government says Chechnya must remain part of Russia, and it insists on rebel disarmament along with troop withdrawal. …

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