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Chechnya: Maskhadov Reportedly Orders Cease-Fire

Aslan Maskhadov (file photo) Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov has allegedly ordered Chechen fighters to temporarily halt all offensive operations in the republic. A statement by Maskhadov published on a Chechen website says the cease-fire, due to last through 22 February, is a gesture of goodwill. Chechnya's Russian-backed government has dismissed the report, calling it a publicity stunt that cannot be trusted.

Prague, 3 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A pro-separatist website has posted a statement saying Aslan Maskhadov signed the cease-fire order on 14 January.

The statement also cited the separatist leader as calling on the Kremlin to open negotiations for a peaceful settlement to the war in Chechnya.

The site -- -- published the statement on the night of 2 February. It is accompanied by an order from warlord Shamil Basayev for pro-Chechen fighters to "end all offensive military actions" until 22 February.
"Everybody is tired of this war -- Maskhadov and his people, and Chechens on the whole." -- Sahman Akbulatov, Memorial human rights center

Sahman Akbulatov represents Russia's Memorial human rights center in Ingushetia, the autonomous republic bordering Chechnya. Akbulatov said he travels often to Chechnya and that people there are desperate for the war to end and will welcome the cease-fire call.

"Everybody is tired of this war -- Maskhadov and his people, and Chechens on the whole," Akbulatov said today. "Probably Russians don't need this war either -- at least, the ordinary people."

He said frustration with the nearly 6-year-old war may be one reason behind Maskhadov's alleged cease-fire. But he admits the recent kidnapping of a number of the separatist leader's family members might have something to do with it, as well.

"I don't know. Maybe it is, in a way, related to the abduction of Maskhadov's relatives," Akbulatov said. "In the beginning of December, eight of Maskhadov's relatives were kidnapped, and maybe it somehow influenced the cease-fire. We don't know. We can only guess."

The Chechen prosecutor-general this week announced that an investigation has been opened into the abductions. Memorial has speculated a Chechen police force led by Ramzan Kadyrov -- the son of the former pro-Moscow President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was slain last May -- may have been behind the kidnappings.

Russia's NTV television station on Monday (Jan 31) cited Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko as saying members of the federal forces are also responsible for 10 percent of all abductions in Chechnya.

It is unclear what kind of impact the cease-fire order will have, or whether the recent kidnappings forced Maskhadov to make a conciliatory gesture toward the Russians.

But Akbulatov said the cease-fire offer does n-o-t reflect badly on Maskhadov, and that the apparent collusion between the moderate separatist and the far more radical Basayev may show the Chechen resistance is more unified than previously believed.

Basayev has claimed responsibility for many terrorist attacks carried out in Russia in recent years, including last September's Beslan hostage siege, in which more than 320 people were killed after rebels stormed a school and took children, teachers and parents hostage.

Maskhadov condemned the Beslan siege and has said Basayev should face trial for his role in the hostage taking. But the website has published a series of recent photographs showing the two men sitting together and appearing to discuss military strategy against federal troops.

The British daily "The Times" on 2 February quoted Basaev as saying he still considers attacks on Russian civilian targets, such as the Beslan hostage crisis, as a justifiable response to Russia's military actions in Chechnya, and that he plans to stage further such attacks.

The Kremlin, which has firmly rejected calls to open negotiations with Chechen rebels, has dismissed the statement, saying it is not an "official" source of information.

A spokesman for Chechnya's Russian-backed government today quoted President Alu Alkanov as saying the statement is little more than a publicity stunt.

Kirill Koktysh of the Moscow Institute of International Relations said the Kremlin will probably continue to be silent. Opening negotiations would be seen as a sign of weakness on Russia's part and would contradict Russian President Vladimir Putin's unyielding stance on the breakaway republic.

"For the military component of the decision-making system, this would be a loss of face -- it is too late, so to speak, to turn back," Koktysh said. "And Putin has too often said that Maskhadov doesn't represent anyone. And, to be honest, for the last two years, or even three, that has been absolutely true. Maskhadov really only represents himself and a small group of close supporters and not Chechens as a whole."

Koktysh said there is no reason to expect Putin will respond to the cease-fire. The deadlock in Chechnya, he said, is likely to continue.

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