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Chechnya: President To Insist On Independence

Moscow, 14 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said today that he will meet soon in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and will press the issue of Chechen independence.

Maschadov told a press-conference in Grozny that, in two years of bloody war with Russia, Chechnya has gained the right to be independent. He said he doesn't intend to drop the issues of independence and compensation for war damages.

Earlier today, Russia's Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said the meeting between Yeltsin and Maskhadov will take place in or near Moscow before next Wednesday (August 20), despite rising tensions between Moscow and Grozny. Rybkin said Yeltsin and Maskhadov reached the agreement yesterday during a telephone conversation.

Maskhadov said a decision on the date and place of the meeting will be announced after Chechnya's First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov meets Rybkin in Moscow on Saturday. Udugov had said yesterday that the talks were "on the verge of breakdown." He said Russian military planes had simulated attack runs over the centre of the Chechen capital and Grozny's airport. Udugov said the dummy flights were provocations.

The Russian air force's press-service said Russian warplanes had made only scheduled training flights over the capital of North Ossetia, a Russian republic neighboring Chechnya. The press service denied any flights over Chechnya's capital.

Rybkin today dismissed the overlfight issue as insignificant. He said that the issue of dozens of hostages still held in Chechnya, in his words, "undermines the negotiating atmosphere to a greater extent." He said the hostage question casts doubts over the Chechen leadership's ability to control the situation in the breakaway republic.

Five Russian television journalists, along with more than 12 foreigners and a number of Russian servicemen have been kidnapped in Chechnya, mainly in ransom-aimed operations. The Chechen leadership announced tough measures to free the hostages, but so far without major results.

Rybkin also said that yesterday's Chechen parliament decision to declare Russian a foreign language and make Chechen the only official language in the breakaway republic is another problematical factor.

President Yeltsin has said that Russia must keep its promises of economic help to Chechnya to avoid incitng extremists' blame aimed at Maskhadov. Maskhadov responded today that Chechnya doesn't count on any aid from Russia. He denied the presence of extremists in his entourage.

The peace deal that last August put an end to two years of bloody fighting between Russia and Chechnya postponed a final decision on Chechnya's political status for five years. The issue has remained a cause for contention.

Russian observers say that despite growing tension, the talks are likely to focus once again on economic issues, rather than political. Economic issues include compensating Chechnya for war damages, on which Maskhadov has placed high priority. The main subject of discussion is likely to be once again the restoration of an oil pipeline crossing 150 km of Chechen territory to transport Caspian Sea oil.