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Friday, 21 April, 2000, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Putin denies Chechen peace offer
Minutka Sqaure, Grozny
Minutka Square: the scene of heavy fighting before Grozny fell
Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin has denied receiving new peace proposals from the Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov.

His denial came after the Russian Kommersant newspaper reported on Thursday that Mr Maskhadov had called a ceasefire and promised to release Russian hostages held in Chechnya.

Mr Putin said he had received a proposed peace plan from Mr Maskhadov through an intermediary a month ago.

He added that the Russian security council had made additions before sending it back to Mr Maskhadov, and that nothing had been heard since.

Russian officials had earlier dismissed the peace offer as a sign of low morale among the rebels.

War goes on

Speaking on Friday, Mr Putin said Moscow would pursue its offensive to crush the rebels in Chechnya.

Chechen leader Alsna Maskhadov
There are questions as to weather Maskhadov still leads that rebels
"No one other than us can guarantee Russia's security and we will step up the activities of our armed forces and security organs, at the same time as co-operating with all those prepared to resolve the problem," Mr Putin said.

He added that Moscow still viewed Mr Maskhadov as a war criminal who should be arrested and tried, but he did suggest that Mr Maskhadov might be given an amnesty.

"To Russia, Aslan Maskhadov is a criminal. The amnesty law works in his case, which he could use," Mr Putin said.

There are questions, however, about the extent of Mr Maskhadov's authority over the 2,000 or so rebels believed to be opposing the Russian forces.

Chechen field commanders Shamil Basayev and Khattab are believed to be in command of the rebel war effort.

Ambush fears

The Russian command earlier this week sent reinforcements to the region to shore up its forces battling with rebels fighters holed up in the mountains.

Though the Russian army has the upper hand, correspondents say there is a growing sense of unease among the Russian troops because the Chechens have shown in a series of devastating ambushes that they can hit back.

The arrival of spring in Chechnya means that the mountains are covered in a blanket of fresh green leaves, which act as perfect cover for the rebels.

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21 Apr 00 | Europe
Fear blooms in Chechen spring
20 Apr 00 | Europe
EU envoys in Chechnya mission
04 Apr 00 | Europe
Chechen visit a mixed success
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