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Chechen gov't, separatist leaders meet for talks
by Ian MacDougall

The Associated Press    Translate This Article
24 July 2009

OSLO (AP) - A Chechen separatist leader and a senior representative of the regional government said Friday they have met for talks to bring stability to the war-scarred Russian region. It was the first such contacts between the two sides in eight years.

Rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, chairman of the Chechen regional parliament, gave few details about the meetings in the Norwegian capital. They also remained tightlipped when asked whether the talks had yielded any concrete results.

Norwegian mediator Ivar Amundsen, director of the Chechnya Peace Forum—a human rights group—said it was the first such encounter since November 2001, when Zakayev met a Russian envoy. Nothing came of that meeting.

'It's a promising start,' he told The Associated Press. 'This is not a peace agreement, but it's an intention. ... The talks have been very constructive and very positive.'

Amundsen said further talks were planned in London in the next two weeks, with more people involved. Amundsen also said that other parties 'may have been' involved in the Oslo talks, but refused to elaborate.

Zakayev, who was granted asylum by Britain in 2003, said he represents the political faction of Chechnya's separatist movement and has no connection to the military wing that is spearheading the insurgency there. He is wanted in Russia on murder and kidnapping charges, which he and his supporters maintain are trumped-up.

'I would like to express delight that this has taken place,' Zakayev said through a translator. 'I'm strongly convinced that every Chechen person should be well aware of the processes that are taking place, and should take part in them.'

Abdurakhmanov, who was representing the Kremlin-backed government of President Ramzan Kadyrov, said talks had centered on 'political stability in the Chechen republic and the final consolidation of Chechen society.'

Ahead of Friday's announcement, Abdurakhmanov traveled to Moscow for what Amundsen described as 'consultations' with the Kremlin. The Norwegian mediator said the meetings had been approved by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Chechnya was devastated by two separatist wars in the past 15 years. It's more peaceful under Kadyrov, who was nominated by the Kremlin, but violence has increased in recent months.

Human rights activist Natalya Estemirova was abducted July 15 outside her home in Chechnya and found dead later that day. Estemirova was renowned for her investigations of rights abuses in Chechnya.

Colleagues at Estemirova's rights group, Memorial, blame Kadyrov for her death, saying he rules a region where abuses by authorities are an everyday occurrence and are committed with impunity.

The talks come as Russia struggles against rising violence in areas adjacent to Chechnya, including the attempted assassination of Ingushetia's president. By talking with Zakayev, the most prominent separatist figure still living, Russia could be trying to undermine separatist sentiment in those regions.

In April, Russia announced with considerable fanfare the formal end of its so-called 'counter-terrorist operation' in Chechnya. But violence throughout the North Caucasus belies official claims that stability is growing.

___

Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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