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Russia Starts Military Pullout From Chechnya

Moscow, June 11 (RFE/RL) -- Russia today started its military pullout from Chechnya. The withdrawal is the result of yesterday's military agreement signed in the Ingush capital of Nazran.

Interfax news agency quotes the Russian forces' chief spokesman, Roman Sokolovsky, as saying servicemen from the 245th infantry regiment are leaving their positions in the village of Shatoi, south of the Chechen capital, Grozny. Sokolovsky said heavy rain in Chechnya is hampering a speedy withdrawal, but he said Russian troops will end the pullout by August 31 as agreed. Sokolovsky also said one Russian soldier was killed in fresh clashes with Chechen separatist fighters in the last 24 hours.

Russian and Chechen separatist negotiators also agreed yesterday on the demilitarization of the breakaway republic. The Russian side agreed with the separatist demand to postpone local elections planned for this Sunday. The agreement stipulates the poll will now be held after the troop withdrawal and demilitarization are complete. The agreement did not mention Chechnya's final political status. Russia rejects the separatists' demands for independence.

The Itar-Tass news agency quotes Russian negotiator Vladimir Zorin, who chairs the Russian parliamentary nationalities committee, as expressing hope that the pro-Moscow Chechen leader, Doku Zavgayev, will back the agreement. He said Zavgayev's support is vital for achieving peace in Chechnya.

Meanwhile, two series of explosions reportedly went off today near a convoy carrying Chechen separatist negotiators and international mediators returning home from Ingushetia after signing the agreement.

A Reuter news agency correspondent travelling with the convoy said that at least six people were injured. He said three blasts occurred as some 60 cars in the convoy passed a Russian military checkpoint outside the village of Davydenko, some 30 kilometers west of the Chechen capital, Grozny. Three people, including a woman in the convoy, were reportedly treated for head and leg wounds.

The convoy was shaken by three more blasts in the outskirts of Grozny. Three passers-by were hurt in the second round of explosions. The windshield of the car carrying the representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Chechnya, Tim Guldimann, was smashed. The diplomat, who mediated in the peace talks, was not hurt.

On Sunday, the pro-Moscow Chechen government said that it was undesirable for Guldimann to stay any longer in Chechnya because his activities are "overstepping the OSCE competences."

The Chechen separatist delegation included Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov and field commander Akhmed Zakayev. It was on its way back to the mountains of southern Chechnya.

Reuter quotes Chechen field commander Shirvani Basayev as saying that the blasts were not a coincidence but a provocation. He said the explosions were caused by remote-controlled mines.