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Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 17:49 UK

Chechen separatist in rare talks

File image of Akhmed Zakayev, from December 2006
Mr Zakayev said the two sides discussed political solutions

A Chechen separatist envoy and a regional government representative say they have held talks on bringing stability to the south Russian region.

The prime minister of the government-in-exile, Akhmed Zakayev, and Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, chairman of the Chechen parliament, said they had met in Oslo.

Mediators said the talks were the first between the two sides in eight years.

Russian forces have fought two wars against separatists in the mainly Muslim republic since 1994.

The conflicts claimed more than 100,000 lives and left it in ruins.

Mr Zakayev represents the separatists' political wing, not the military wing that is leading the insurgency in Chechnya.

He said the two sides had "discussed political issues being solved not by force but by political means".

"I would like to express delight that this has taken place," he added. "I'm strongly convinced every Chechen person should be well aware of the processes taking place, and should take part in them."

This meeting has been authorised not only by [Chechen President Ramzan] Kadyrov himself... It has been happening in perfect co-ordination with the highest leadership in the Kremlin
Ivar Amundsen
Chechnya Peace Forum

Mr Abdurakhmanov meanwhile said the talks had centred on "the total political stabilisation of the Chechen Republic and the final consolidation of Chechen society".

Norwegian mediator Ivar Amundsen, the director of the human rights group, Chechnya Peace Forum, said it was the first time there had been "a serious political dialogue between the Russian-installed regime in Chechnya and the government-in-exile".

"This meeting has been authorised not only by [Chechen President Ramzan] Kadyrov himself... It has been happening in perfect co-ordination with the highest leadership in the Kremlin," he said, adding that further talks would be held in London in 10 days' time.

Six months ago, Mr Kadyrov declared that political normalisation could not be achieved without the involvement of Mr Zakayev.

He repeated the offer of reconciliation last month, telling Russian television that there would be no point in imprisoning him and that he would like the former actor to play a role in reviving Chechen culture.

When asked on Friday if he would take up offer, Mr Zakayev told BBC Russian: "I will definitely return to the Chechen Republic and there are no conditions that I would impose on this."

Spreading insurgency

Mr Zakayev was a leading rebel in Chechnya until 2000, but fled and sought asylum in the UK when Russia regained control.

In 2003, a British court rejected Moscow's request for his extradition on kidnapping and murder charges, saying that there was substantial risk of him being tortured by the authorities.

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Two years ago, Mr Zakayev declared himself prime minister of the rebel Republic of Ichkeria after the President, Doku Umarov, described Western countries as the enemies of all Muslims, and announced his intention to install shariah across the region.

Any statement of support from him for the Kremlin-backed government in Chechnya would aid Moscow, analysts say.

Chechnya has in recent years been more peaceful. In April, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the end of a decade-long "counter-terrorism operation", intended to pave the way for the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

But since then several attacks have taken place. Earlier this month, two police officers and two soldiers were killed in a gun battle with militants in southern Chechnya.

Fighting has also spread to neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia, where correspondents say a violent Islamist insurgency is growing.



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