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Chechnya: Withdrawal Of Russian Troops Suspended

Moscow, 12 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The commander of Russian troops in Chechnya said today that the withdrawal of Russian forces from the breakaway republic has been suspended because of disagreements with Chechen separatists over the release of prisoners.

Interfax quotes General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov as saying "federal detachments will not leave Chechnya" until an agreement on the release of prisoners is reached. Tikhomirov said that his position has the full support of Russian national security chief Aleksandr Lebed, who negotiated peace deals with the separatists.

The accords call for the demilitarization of Grozny, the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya, formation of a coalition government, and a five-year delay in deciding the republic's status. In talks earlier this month, Lebed was quoted as telling the separatists that a withdrawal would be stopped if the prisoner issue was not resolved.

Interfax quotes Tikhomirov as saying that the separatists have drawn up a list of prisoners they want released which includes, "criminals in jail all over Russia." He added "we will never agree to such an exchange." Russian officials had earlier said that a withdrawal of federal forces depended on the release of all Russian prisoners.

Interfax also quotes Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as saying today that "there is much that (he) disagrees with" in the peace accords. But he said "we have stopped the fighting, which is our main achievement."

A Lebed spokesman told Itar-Tass that Lebed met in Moscow today with officials of all the Russian ministries which have troops in Chechnya, including the Interior and Defense ministries. Itar-Tass reports that the prisoner issue was discussed.