Federal forces continued their airraids and artillery bombardnent of Grozny from the east, south and north-west on 17-18 December, and by early on 19 December had established partial control over the city's southern Chernoreche district, from which Chechen defenders had withdrawn. But fighting was again reported in Chernoreche early on 20 December. Russian troops also advanced into the eastern suburb of Khankala and the north-western Staropromyslovskaya district. NTV on 19 December reported that Russian troops in Urus Martan, west of Grozny, were recruiting Chechen volunteers to fight alongside Russian forces. LF
RUSSIAN TROOPS STRENGTHEN POSITIONS IN SOUTHERN CHECHNYA
Federal forces on 17 December blocked the Argun gorge leading south from Grozny towards the frontier with Georgia, and established control over the main highway leading to the frontier, Caucasus Press reported. On the night of 19-20 December, special purpose Russian troops also took control of two further highways in Chechnya's Shatoi Raion leading to Georgia and via Daghestan to Azerbaijan. LF
RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS TALKS HELD WITH CHECHEN LEADERSHIP
Russian Chief of General Staff Colonel General Anatolii Kvashnin told journalists in Moscow on 19 December that Russian military representatives have conducted talks on a cessation of hostilities with representatives of the cabinet of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, AFP and dpa reported. Kvashnin did not divulge when or where those talks had taken place. But he did say that the Chechens rejected President Yeltsin's demands that the Chechens lay down their arms and that Maskhadov hand over to Moscow those persons responsible for terrorist bombings in Russian cities. LF
OSCE CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR CHECHEN CEASEFIRE, CONFERENCE...
Addressing G-7 Foreign Ministers in Berlin on 17 December, OSCE Chairman In Office Knut Vollebaek called for an immediate ceasefire in Chechnya in order to avoid "a bloodbath," the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Vollebaek further advocated increasing humanitarian aid and opening additional "safe corridors" to allow the civilian population to leave Grozny in safety, according to ITAR-TASS. Vollebaek also suggested convening an international conference on Chechnya which would be attended by representatives of the Russian authorities, of North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Daghestan. He expressed his willingness to chair such a conference, naming Chechen President Maskhadov and Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as addditional possible participants. LF
...BOTH OF WHICH RUSSIA REJECTS
All the G-7 foreign ministers expressed approval of Vollebaek's proposals. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, however, rejected his call for a ceasefire, insisting that Russia will see the "anti-terrorist operation" through to the end. Ivanov again said that Chechnya is Russia's internal affair, and ruled out international mediation. But he did express acceptance of the OSCE decision to send observers to monitor the Georgian-Chechen border. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Interfax on 17 December that Russia "should indispensably participate" in that monitoring exercise. On 19 December, Ivanov told journalists in Moscow that Vollebaek's proposed Chechen conference is neither viable nor feasible, Interfax reported. Ivanov noted that the North Caucasian leaders whom Vollebaek named as potential participants are members of the Federation Council, which, he continued, is a more appropriate forum for discussing the Chechen conflict. LF
CHECHEN OFFICIAL FLOATS NEW PEACE PROPOSAL
In a paid advertisement in the "International Herald Tribune" of 18/19 December, Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev, who in 1997-1998 sought to raise international financial support for a Caucasian Common Market, outlines measures that he believes could serve as a basis for peace in Chechnya. Noukhaev suggests that the Russian State Duma should ratify existing agreements which Chechnya which should then systematically be implemented. In return, Chechen clan leaders should secure the disbandment of illegal armed groups by recalling members of their clans from such groups under threat of suspending their immunity from retaliation blood feud killings. Noukhaev also proposes forming an international commission to secure the release of all persons held hostage in Chechnya. LF
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