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Russia/Chechnya: Officials Differ On Plans For Talks

Moscow, 13 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen and Russian officials are making conflicting statements about an imminent meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.

Chechnya's First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov said today that the meeting "is under threat of collapse" after Russian military planes reportedly made simulated dive-bomb attacks on the center of the Chechen capital, Grozny and on the city's airport.

Udugov said the flights were a provocation aimed at stopping the meeting "at all cost."

But in Moscow, Yeltsin press-secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky said preparations for the meeting are proceding at full speed.

Yastrzhembsky did not comment on Udugov's statements. But Interfax quotes Yeltsin's representative in Chechnya, Anatoly Chernyshyov, as saying he was "surprised" by Udugov's words. He said he has no information about any Russian military planes flying near Grozny.

Earlier in the day, Yeltsin said Russia must keep its promises of help to Chechnya.

At a meeting in the Kremlin today with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin , Yeltsin said that if Moscow does not stick to its commitments, then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov will come under criticism at home. He said "extremists" will blame Maskhadov for the absence of aid.

The Russian leader also said the central government must proceed calmly and without haste in dealing with Chechnya.

His comments coincide with a vote in the Chechen parliament to make Chechen the republic's only official language. The Russian and Chechen languages previously had equal status in the breakaway republic. But Interfax quotes Parliament Chairman Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev as saying the 21-month war against Russian forces had "changed the population's attitude toward the Russian language."

Alikhadzhiyev said officials have been instructed to switch over to Chechen for business correspondence within a month, but he acknowledged that the reform will be difficult to implement. Alikhadzhiyev said there are few qualified Chechen language teachers in the republic's schools. Of the 26 newspapers published in Chechnya, only one is in Chechen.

Alikhadzhiyev pledged that despite the reform, the Chechen government will take all measures to ensure that people will be able to continue to learn and use Russian freely.