Chechen peace talks may resume
But civilian casualties mount
July 22, 1996
in intensified fighting
Web posted at: 1:10 p.m. EDT (1710 GMT)
GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- The Russian military command and Chechen separatists have agreed to resume peace talks, the head of an international organization said Monday.
"The talks can take place in the near future," Tim Guldimann,
head of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, told Russia's news agency.
But similar words have been heard before. Guldimann's organization has brokered several rounds of talks
between the rebels and Moscow, including the cease-fire agreement President Boris Yeltsin reached with rebel leaders May 27, during his recent re-election campaign.
Though rain and thick fog has slowed Russia's assault on a rebel base in southern Chechnya for now, fighting has only intensified since Yeltsin's election on July 3.
Among the recent dead are 13 civilians killed near a Russian military checkpoint outside Grozny when shell fire hit their cars.
The incident has led to protests by despairing Chechens who fear that the promise of peace has slipped away. "Doesn't the whole world understand that what they are doing here is an outrage, that this is shameful?" one woman said of the Russian army.
"Doesn't the whole world understand that what they are doing here is an outrage, that this is shameful?"
-- Chechen civilian
Demonstrators assembled at the pro-Moscow government building with protest placards that included phrases like "we are tired of living as guests in our own country." They claim that Yeltsin's peace initiative was just an election ploy, and that he has now allowed the war to resume at full force in Grozny and neighboring Villages.
Russians target rebel stronghold
Much of the recent Russian offensive has been concentrated in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, the last stronghold of Chechen rebels and the scene of much fighting.
One mountain road is littered with debris from a rebel ambush against a Russian armored column earlier this year. The stronger Moscow forces are now prevailing, and the rebels have been reduced to guerrilla actions and laying booby traps, not all of them successful.
Russian forces routinely raid villages believed to harbor rebel fighters in an attempt to finally crush rebel resistance. That rebels were in fact hiding there is evident from the destruction suffered by the Russian forces as they entered. But residents complain that many attacks have been pure acts of vengeance and targeted civilians, killing scores of them.
One Russian bombing raid took place two days after the last guerrillas had left Gekhi, villagers complained. At least 18 bombs hit the village.
Chechen officials loyal to the Russians have been supporting the tougher line against the rebels, widening the gap between all sides and hardening the determination to discard previous peace agreements and fight rather than talk, according to Guldimann. "This all means that we are still far away from a political solution of the conflict," he told CNN's Peter Arnett.
"This all means that we are still far away from a political solution of the conflict."
-- Tim Guldimann, peace negotiator
It seems clear to most observers that both sides have embarked on a war of attrition that neither is willing to give up, yet neither side can win, and the battered civilian population is stuck in the middle.
Correspondent Peter Arnett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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