Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Strike at Rebels, Russia Fuels Fire of Chechen War Lack of Talks Led to Hostage-Taking, Attack

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Strike at Rebels, Russia Fuels Fire of Chechen War Lack of Talks Led to Hostage-Taking, Attack

Article excerpt

THE violent Russian response yesterday to a violent venture by hostage-holding Chechen rebels was a surprise to almost no one.

But it might have been unnecessary, observers say, if Russia were still negotiating with leaders in the separatist southern region.

The artillery barrage the Russians loosed upon the Chechen commandos and roughly 100 hostages contrasted sharply to a similar incident last June, when another group of Chechen commandos seized hostages in a southern Russian city.

Then, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin personally negotiated with the leader of the raid, Shamil Basayev, who became a hero among Chechen rebels.

This time, the Russians gave the Chechens a deadline of Sunday for giving up their hostages, extended it through one harrowing night of helicopter flyovers and flare-shooting, then yesterday set about leveling the town the rebels have occupied.

Some Russians say Moscow should have never have treated the first group of commandos so softly last June. But those more familiar with Chechens see the entire incident as the fallout of broken-down talks between Russians and former Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. Mr. Dudayev and other rebels still control the mountainous areas of Chechnya.

If Russians were still talking with Dudayev and his representatives, "we would have no such tragedy just now," says Issa Kostoyev, a prominent member of Russia's upper house of parliament. Mr. Kostoyev is from Ingushetia, a Russian republic next to Chechnya.

After the first hostage incident last June at the Russian town of Budennovsk, Russian officials opened talks with Chechen rebels, arriving at an ineffectual military agreement July 30. But talks continued into the fall - until the Russians announced that Chechnya would elect a new "head" of the republic on Dec. 17 - signaling they intended to displace Dudayev. …

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