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Chechnya: Separatist Leaders Discuss Suspension Of Troop Withdrawal

Grozny, 16 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - Chechen separatist leaders met Friday in Chechnya to discuss how to react to a Russian general's recent decision to suspend pulling Russian troops out of the breakaway republic.

Chechen separatist spokesman Movladi Udugov told RFE/RL that the meeting was attended by separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and by chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov.

Interfax quoted Maskhadov as saying after the meeting that the suspension of the Russian troop pullout, "is another senseless game which could lead to new victims" because it risks starting fresh fighting.

Russia's military commander in Chechnya, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, said last week that he was halting the Russian pullout because the separatists had included the names of common criminals on a list of war captives to be exchanged under the Chechen peace accord. The peace accord was concluded by Maskhadov and Russis'a Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on August 31.

Lebed said last week that Tikhomirov was being a little temperamental in announcing the suspension of the troop withdrawal. Lebed said the prisoner exchange plan needs some work, but he said the problem would be resolved.

Meanwhile, Russian and Chechen separatists accused each other Friday of assembling large formations of fighters outside the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Udugov said Russian troops are gathering around Grozny and at Chechnya's borders. And Russian reports say a group of about 200 chechen separatists have massed near a Russian stronghold north of Grozny and have given the Russian forces 48 hours to withdraw.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has noted the halt to the Russian troop withdrawal from Chechnya and says it hopes the suspension is only temporary.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Friday that the United States understands some complications have risen and hopes the withdrawal of troops is stalled only temporarily.

He said that despite the setback there has been no outbreak of fighting.

"We are encouraged that the Russian government and the Chechen forces appear to be well on their way to putting this war behind them," Burns said.