Moscow, May 22 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev today called for direct talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Interfax quoted Yandarbiyev as saying he would a agree to a meeting in Russia's neighboring Muslim republic of Dagestan. In Moscow, Nikolai Koshman, the prime minister of the pro-Russian Chechen administration, said he would "never sit down at the negotiating table" with Yandarbiyev or separatist commander Shamil Basayev. Koshman said their hands were "stained with blood."
Yeltsin, meanwhile, was scheduled today to meet individual members of his security council, including Russian Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov. Yeltsin has repeatedly said he will soon visit Chechnya, but an exact date for such a visit has not been officially given.
Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, speaking in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, say today that Russia will start withdrawing its troops from Chechnya on June 1, leaving only two units of the North Caucasus military district in the republic by August 1.
In Chechnya itself, the Russian assault aagainst the western
separatist stronghold of Bamut is continuing. Interfax, quoting the Russian military command, reports that 22 Russian soldiers were killed and 48 wounded in the most recent clashes with separatists.
no independent confirmation was immediately available.