Chechen Leader Wants Three-Day Cease-Fire

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov appealed to Russia on Wednesday for a truce to allow observers into the regional capital Grozny to assess charges of chemical arms being used in the conflict, Interfax news agency said.

The appeal was swiftly dismissed by a senior Russian general.

Interfax quoted a statement distributed in neighboring ex-Soviet Georgia as saying Maskhadov wanted the cease-fire to take effect from January 8 to January 11, in order to permit Russian and international experts to visit the besieged city.

The statement said this would enable experts to look into ''proof of the Russian side having used chemical weapons in Grozny.''

Colonel-General Manilov, first deputy chief of the Russian armed forces general staff, reacted immediately. He told Interfax Maskhadov's allegations were ''disinformation and lies'' aimed at winning some breathing time.

''There can be no truce. The only way to end bloodshed is for the fighters to stop senseless resistance and lay down their arms,'' Manilov said.

Russia has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in its military campaign against Chechen rebels, whom Moscow accuses of ''international terrorism.''

Moscow has in turn accused the rebels of blowing up cisterns with poisonous chemicals to hinder the Russian troops' advance on the city. The rebels deny the accusations.

The propaganda war raging between Moscow and the rebels is almost as fierce as the fighting. Hard facts are difficult to come by.

Itar-Tass news agency said Russia's military command had urged rebel fighters to allow civilians trapped in Grozny to flee the city through ''safety corridors.'' The rebels have said several times that the corridors are not passable.

A spokesman for the Chechen rebels said this week there were still 40,000 civilians in Grozny. The Russian armed forces have been quoted as saying there are about 20,000 civilians in the city.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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