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Monday, 28 October, 2002, 20:49 GMT
Chechen rebels seek talks with Moscow
Chechen World Congress delegates
The Chechen congress is being held in Copenhagen
Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov has offered to start unconditional peace talks with the Russian Government to find a political solution to the conflict in the breakaway republic.

"We declare our readiness to talk peace without any preliminary terms," an envoy for Mr Maskhadov, whose separatist administration was ousted when Russian troops returned to Chechnya in 1999, said at the World Chechen Congress in Copenhagen.

There is one reasonable, correct step - to sit down at the negotiating table

Aslan Maskhadov
Russia has insisted on a military solution for Chechnya and refused to negotiate with the rebels, whom it says have links to international terrorism.

But the head of the pro-Russian administration in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, said rebel fighters who surrendered would be given an amnesty - providing, as he put it, they did not have blood on their hands.

"If you do not surrender, you can expect to die, as the fight against terrorism will be carried out using the harshest means," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Earlier, Russia sharply criticised Denmark for hosting the two-day congress, which opened on Monday only days after the Moscow hostage crisis.

As Russia threatened to boycott a European Union-Russia summit next month in Copenhagen, Danish officials altered the venue to Brussels.

Russian ground and air forces attacked rebel positions in Chechnya on Monday, in the first such raids since the ending of the theatre siege early on Saturday.

Russian military officials told the Interfax news agency that up to 30 rebels had been killed in an operation to the east of the Chechen capital, Grozny.

In the neighbouring Russian region of Ingushetia, Russian troops also clashed with Chechen rebels, saying they killed six to the loss of one of their own soldiers.

'No link to terrorists'

Delegates at the Copenhagen meeting distanced themselves from the events in Moscow, in which a Chechen suicide squad held hundreds of hostages at a theatre for three days before it was stormed by Russian troops with heavy loss of life.

"We have no relations with terrorists," said Osman Ferzaouli, a Copenhagen-based representative of Mr Maskhadov.

Aslan Maskhadov
Maskhadov condemned the Chechen rebels who seized the Moscow theatre
About 100 Chechens, Russian human rights activists and lawmakers from Russia and other European countries gathered in a downtown Copenhagen hotel to discuss ways to end the fighting.

Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatists' deputy prime minister, told the congress that the Russians and the Chechens needed international help to work out a peace deal.

In an interview with the French news agency AFP, Aslan Maskhadov warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that more attacks like the bloody Moscow hostage siege were inevitable unless he sought a peace settlement.

"There is no military solution," he said. "There is one reasonable, correct step - to sit down at the negotiating table."

But BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett says that after years of conflict there is little sympathy for the Chechen cause in Russia.

Mr Putin was elected on a promise to "get tough" with the Chechens and our correspondent says it is unlikely he will change course now.

Denmark stands firm

Russia has been so angered by Denmark's refusal to cancel the congress that it threatened to boycott next month's EU-Russia summit in the country .

The Kremlin accused the Danish authorities of "solidarity with terrorists" by allowing the meeting to go ahead so soon after the Moscow theatre tragedy.

As a result the Danish government has said the summit will now be held in Brussels.

Denmark, which holds the EU's rotating presidency until December, refused to ban the World Chechnya Congress on the grounds of freedom of speech.

Tom de Waal, Institute for War and Peace
"The international community has preferred to look the other way"
Osman Firzaouli, representative of Aslan Maskahdov
"They should stop the war"

Siege reports

Key stories

Chechen conflict



See also:

26 Oct 02 | Europe
24 Oct 02 | Europe
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