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Chechen President Hints At Talks With Rebels

25 October 2004 -- Chechen President Alu Alkhanov says that he is open to negotiating with rebel leaders if they can assure that they can meet any commitments they might make to disarm their followers.

Alkhanov said today in a news conference in Moscow that he would welcome any initiative that would bring peace closer.

"There is clear, directed movement toward peace, and to develop and strengthen this process, I believe any negotiations, any dialogue, any meetings with [separatist] commanders -- if this commander says, 'I have 100 men with me and these 100 men will go back to their peaceful lives, back to their people under such and such guarantees -- I assure you, I am ready to go to the president of the Russian Federation, together with other leaders of the [Chechen] republic, and stand up for their proposals," Alkhanov said.

Alkhanov told the news conference that 5,000-7,000 former rebels have already laid down arms and returned to peaceful life in Chechnya.

But, he said, any negotiations could not include radical rebel leader Shamil Basaev, who, he said, is recognized as an international terrorist. He said that Aslan Maskhadov, elected president of Chechnya in 1997 after Russian forces withdrew, is not capable of making and fulfilling any commitments.