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Yeltsin Says Chechnya War Nearing End, But Fighting Continues

Moscow, April 16 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin said today the war in Chechnya is coming to an end. His remarks, made while campaigning in the Southern Krasnodar region, contradict reports of fighting taking place in Southern Chechnya today.

The Itar-Tass news agency quoted Yeltsin as telling servicemen in a military compound that his "peace initiative on Chechnya is working." Earlier today Yeltsin had avoided the Chechen issue during a meeting with voters in Krasnodar.

Yeltsin ruled out direct talks with Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. He said Dudayev has accepted his offer of indirect talks and that Morocco's King Hassan had joined in efforts to launch peace talks. Yeltsin said other mediators would be Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev and Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

But an RFE/RL correspondent in Chechnya quotes Dudayev as saying he would hold talks with Moscow through Turkish President Suleyman Demirel or Jordan's King Hussein. However, Dudayev does not rule out contacts with Shaimiyev and Nazarbayev.

Meanwhile Russian planes continued to attack villages in Southern and Southeastern Chechnya today. An RFE/RL correspondent in the area reports intensive fighting in villages around the rebel strenghold of Vedeno and the Russian military command in Chechnya said Russian planes have bombed the village of Martan-Chu, south of Grozny.

The Russian Military Commander in Chechnya, Lt.Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, said Russia will continue its withdrawal this week, with another six battalions pulling out of Northern Chechnya.