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Russia: Maskhadov Wants Chechen Sovereignty Negotiations To Begin

Grozny, 29 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The man considered to have easily won Chechnya's presidential election is quoted today as saying his willingness to compromise with Russia in talks on his republic's political status has its limits.

According to Interfax, former separatist military commander Aslan Maskhadov says that Chechnya determined in 1991 that it was an independent state, and all that remains is for other countries, including Russia, to recognize this fact.

He said recognition can be achieved by political means, and called on Moscow to ignore a five-year moratorium agreed in last year's peace deal and start sovereignty negotiations now.

Maskhadov also says he believes the West will not open its doors to Chechnya straight away. But he is confident Chechens will win independence with the same courage that won them the war.

And, referring to the 21-month war, Maskhadov tells the Russian weekly "Argumenty i Fakti" that Russia must bear responsibility for the death and destruction in Chechnya.

Former Russian security council chief Aleksandr Lebed, who signed the Chechnya peace deal with Maskhadov, told Moscow Echo Radio he has no reason to doubt that Maskhadov will honor the accord.

Official returns from Monday's Chechen election are not yet complete. But with most votes counted, Maskhadov this morning was reported as having 65 percent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rival, guerrilla commander Shamil Basayev.

Basayev is quoted today as saying he will not work alongside Maskhadov because "he was surrounded by a gang of thugs."

Basayev says he does not have any particular differences of opinion with Maskhadov on foreign policy -- noting that all election candidates had the same goal, Chechen indepedence. But Basayev said he can stop what he called "the robbery of the population by our old communist elite. Maskhadov can't because they're all on his team."