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The BBC's Robert Parsons
"In the race for the Presidency Putin is way out in front"
 real 28k

Monday, 20 March, 2000, 21:05 GMT
Putin urges Chechens to accept amnesty
Chechen refugees watching TV
Going for the Chechen vote: Refugees watch election special
Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged Chechen fighters to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the Russian parliament.

He was speaking after arriving in Chechnya by fighter jet on a surprise trip ahead of this weekend's presidential elections.



The ones who have not stained their hands with the blood of Russian nationals, have not killed or robbed, have a choice

Vladimir Putin
After a brief tour of parts of the devastated capital Grozny, Mr Putin indicated that Moscow was willing to discuss the republic's future with rebels who laid down their arms.

He said that those "who have not stained their hands with the blood of Russian nationals, have not killed or robbed, have a choice.

"We are ready for negotiations with such people to solve the problems of the territory we are now on."

He said that since the task of destroying rebel groups had been accomplished, surplus Russian troops and arms should be withdrawn.

However, he stopped short of calling for peace talks with rebel forces.

He warned that Moscow was still committed to hunting down Chechen rebels in the mountains in the south of the republic.

"They will be eliminated," he said.

Holed up

Fighting has continued around the village of Komsomolskoye, south of Grozny, after two weeks of Chechen rebel resistance.


Russian soldiers in Chechnya
The 'final phase' of the operation in Chechnya is dragging on
General Gennady Troshev, the acting head of Russia's forces in the North Caucasus, earlier said Chechen commander Ruslan Gelayev was holed up in Komsomolskoye along with 600 fighters.

About 75 rebels surrendered on Monday, Russian news media reported.

Interfax news agency reported that a Chechen field commander, Salautdin Timirbulatov, had been captured by Russian troops.

He is accused of killing Russian prisoners in 1996.

Electioneering

Mr Putin's visit to Grozny comes less than a week before an election which he is almost certain to win.

He arrived in a gleaming white two-man Sukhoi jet, emerging from the cockpit in leather jacket and helmet to a small reception of military top brass and journalists.


Vladimir Putin
Putin flew into Chechnya in a military jet
This is not the first time Mr Putin has grabbed headlines by flying into Grozny in a military fighter. He did the same in the first hours of his presidency at the end of last year.

The Russian assault has left the city a wasteland of shattered buildings and some officials had proposed abandoning it altogether.

But Mr Putin said on Monday that "Grozny will be slowly restored."

He has also promised a pay rise of 20% to Russia's public-sector workers.

It will come into effect on 1 April, and will be welcomed by a workforce which for years has had to cope with low wages often paid months in arrears.

But BBC Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel says some will see it as a deliberate election ploy, coming as it does just six days before the election.

There are echoes of the 1996 election, when Boris Yeltsin's campaign was marked by a nationwide tour which saw him respond to complaints about non-payment of wages by making some back payments and giving promises of full settlement.

After Mr Yeltsin's re-election, these promises evaporated, and, four years later, the problem remains.

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