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Russia: Maskhadov To Sign Security Decree To Protect Pipeline Deal

Moscow, 21 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - One week after the signing of a long-delayed accord for the shipment of oil from rich reserves in Azerbaijan through Chechnya to Russia's Black Sea port of Novirossiisk, Chechnya is taking measures to give Russia additional security guarantees.

Our Chechnya correspondent says President Aslan Maskhadov met Thursday with top Chechen security officials and is about to sign a decree on the creation of a special task-force to trace and set free several tens of hostages abducted in Chechnya in the last months.

The decree will empower the task force, under Maskhadov's direct control, to enforce extreme measures. Its powers will be well beyond those of previous security units.

Maskhadov's decision comes as Russia's Security Council leaders this week expressed concern that unnamed outside forces may stage provocations aimed at disrupting the tripartite agreement signed last week by Russia, Chechnya and Azerbaijan on transporting early Caspian oil westward along the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk route.

Chechnya has been plagued by kidnappings and other crimes since the end of the conflict with Russia last year.

The oil pipeline accord, signed last Friday in Azerbaijan's capital Baku by Russian, Chechen and Azerbaijani officials, paves the way for developing the rich Caspian Sea oil fields, which are forecast to rival those of the Middle East within 10 years. An international oil consortium is to start pumping oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian fields in October.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who signed the deal for Russia, said the Baku agreement resolved all the complex problems that had been blocking the project's implementation. The agreement was also signed by the head of Chechnya's oil company Yunko, Khodzh-Akhmed Yarikhanov and by his counterpart at Azerbaijan's state oil company, Natik Aliyev.

For Chechnya, the main stumbling block had been reaching banking and customs agreements that were also concluded last week. The deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council, Boris Berezovsky, who has been one of the main negotiators of the deal, said the economic accords were the base for Chechnya's future economic recovery. He said they create the foundation for normal relations between Moscow and Chechnya.

Both sides put great emphasis on security agreements. Russian and Chechen security services this week signed an agreement pledging to cooperate in fighting kidnapping, terrorism, smuggling, recruitment of mercenaries and economic crimes in the breakaway republic.

And in a separate deal Russia and Chechnya agreed to a deal spelling out how to mend the 153 kilometers section of pipeline that crosses Chechnya. The pipeline was damaged during the armed conflict between Russia and Chechnya.

Russian news agencies quoted Yarikhanov as saying that the deal would allow Russian and Chechen companies to "make the necessary contacts and sign agreements to carry out joint works on restoring and using the pipeline.

Restoration works are expected to last three weeks and will cost over $2 million.

Chechnya has set itself up as a de-facto independent entity since the end of the conflict last August. Moscow regards Chechnya as one of the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation, but has adopted a pragmatic approach to solve bilateral problems, mainly because of the oil deal.