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Russia: Chechen President Asks Consortium To Sign Oil Transit Deal

Grozny, 28 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Chechnya's President Aslan Maskhadov today called on members of an international Caspian Sea oil consortium to sign a transit agreement with the breakaway republic. Russia has persuaded the consortium to transport oil via Chechnya, claiming it controls the route. Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya under a peace deal signed last August, but the issue of Chechen independence remains unresolved.

Maskhadov says Chechnya wants to sign an agreement on oil transit with what he terms "all interested sides," not just Russia. Interfax quotes him as saying in an interview today that once a transit agreement is signed, Chechen authorities will be bound to guarantee the security of the pipeline along the 150-kilometer stretch transiting their republic.

The oil pipeline starts in the Azeri capital Baku on the Caspian Sea and runs across Chechnya to Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.The Chechen route is one of two the consortium chose in October 1995; the other leads through Georgia. The consortium plans to transport oil through both. Early shipments are set to begin in the middle of this year.

Chechen President Maskhadov also said today that he strongly supports executions as a way to deal with criminals and stem the republic's current wave of kidnappings and lawlessness.

Intefax quotes Maskhadov as saying "People say criminals must be shot dead. I agree and will do that."

Executions have already begun. Chechen television earlier this month carried footage of a public execution of a man convicted of murdering a family of three. The man's throat was cut. In the latest criminal incident today, the son of former Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tsotne, was released in Grozny after having been earlier kidnapped by unidentified assailants. It is not clear if ransom was paid.

In other news, Maskhadov also said the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should retain its key role in negotiating a peace treaty between Moscow and the breakaway republic.

Moscow suggested earlier this month that OSCE diplomats based in Grozny drop their mediating role and concentrate on monitoring human rights and refugee problems. But Maskhadov, quoted by Interfax, today said the OSCE should still take part in the ongoing talks.