Russia

Chechen rebel envoy says Moscow must negotiate

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By Oliver Bullough
MOSCOW, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Russia must negotiate with rebels to secure peace in Chechnya, a newly-appointed separatist envoy to Moscow said on Thursday, pouring scorn on Kremlin plans to skirt talks and hold a referendum in the war-ravaged province.

Moscow, seeking a way out of the impasse in a decade of fighting between Chechen separatists and Russian troops, has set March 23 for a poll on a new constitution that will anchor Chechnya firmly inside Russia. But Salambek Maigov, appointed on Thursday by ousted Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov as his Moscow envoy, said the vote would not solve the conflict dogging the region.

"There is no way out through a referendum, which can only be used to confirm a prior agreement. This would put the cart before the horse," Maigov, a Moscow-based businessman, told his first news conference.

Maigov, said to have good ties in Russian political and military circles, said he was ready to talk with officials to help forge an agreement.

"All our problems can be resolved at the negotiating table," he said. "Parliament and president remain the legitimate voice of the Chechen people. There can be no political settlement without talks between the two sides."

But his proposals have been greeted with scorn in the Kremlin, where Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky was quoted by local media as saying Moscow would not hold talks with the envoy of "a non-existent president of a non-existent state".

Since Russian troops returned to Chechnya in 1999 after a three-year absence, Russian and Chechen envoys have only once sat formally at the negotiating table -- for two hours of talks at a city airport, which Moscow has since sought to shrug off.

Moscow slammed the door on peace talks last October after Chechen rebels seized a packed theatre in an attack which left 129 people dead, accusing Maskhadov of backing the most bloody raid of the current campaign.

Maskhadov denied he was involved in the hostage-taking and offered his condolences to the victims' families.

"I do not think that it is possible for someone to control everyone on the territory of Chechnya," Maigov said. "It is not possible to control everyone who picks up a gun."

Maigov, who announced in a radio broadcast on Thursday that he had been charged by Maskhadov with pushing for peace talks, said he was not a replacement for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen special envoy currently fighting extradition in London.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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