Yastrzhembsky: Russia says will talk to Chechens on its terms
MOSCOW, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Russia's top spokesman on Chechnya,
to renewed Western criticism of Kremlin policy, said on Tuesday Moscow
ready to hold further talks with rebels -- but on its own terms.
President Vladimir Putin's swift support for the U.S.-led war on
after the September 11 attacks led to an easing of Western criticism of
Moscow's crackdown in Chechnya. But leaders in the West have now
calls for a political solution in the troubled region.
Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Reuters that in principle
Russian government was still ready to hold talks with the separatists.
"Not to shake hands, but to discuss the agenda put forward by the
side," he said in an interview.
Thousands of Russian servicemen and civilians have been killed since Moscow sent in forces, first in 1994 and then again in 1999, to try to crush a separatist rebellion in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus region.
Rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and Kremlin representative Viktor Kazantsev met at a Moscow airport for several hours last November for the only peace talks in more than two years of war. The meeting produced no concrete results and no one has since returned to the negotiating table.
Yastrzhembsky said the talks had not produced results as Zakayev did not have a mandate from Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov to discuss the issues put on the agenda by Moscow.
He said the two main demands were an end to military activity in the region and moves by the rebels to integrate into normal civilian life.
"The door remains open (for talks). If Zakayev was ready to return with a mandate by Maskhadov to continue his contacts with Kazantsev then the federal side would welcome that," he added.
WEST HAS "DOUBLE STANDARDS" ON CHECHNYA
But since the November peace talks, Moscow has launched a series of
"special operations" in the province aimed at wiping out rebel groups.
January, the government announced that 92 rebels had been killed in a
month-long crackdown -- one of the bloodiest reported there for more
Washington accused Moscow of using "overwhelming force" and committing
human rights violations in Chechnya.
In return, Moscow protested to France, Britain and the United States
meetings held with Chechen rebel envoys, saying the countries were
of political double standards.
"We consider such meetings (with rebel envoys) as the continuation of
policy of political double standards," Yastrzhembsky said, adding that
gave the rebels "moral justification" for their actions.
"The very fact that they meet people who have not distanced themselves
their international terrorist links is condoning terrorism in a way...
Despite their assurances they have nothing to do with (Arab)
and al Qaeda, it is not true."
Since September 11, Russia has repeatedly linked separatists in
Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, blamed by the United States
the airliner attacks.
Yastrzhembsky said the Russian government was taking steps to tackle
reported human rights violations through military and civilian
adding that the incidence of civilian deaths was not limited to
"Regretfully during military activity, no matter how sophisticated the
weapons are, civilian casualties occur. It's a part of military
wherever it happens -- Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Chechnya or Afghanistan," he
Russia, which is embroiled in its second post-Soviet campaign in
now has shaky control over most of the territory on its southern flank.
its troops still die almost daily in guerrilla attacks.