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Russia: Putin Sets Conditions For Talks With Chechnya

Moscow, 29 September 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today said he is ready for talks with Chechnya if it condemns terrorism and hands over rebels responsible for recent invasions in Dagestan and civilian bombings in Russia. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has repeatedly denied involvement in the incursions or the explosions that have wracked Russia this past month. Moscow claims a group of Islamic rebels who have twice invaded Dagestan are controlled by the Chechen government. Moscow blames the same militants for a series of explosions in Russian cities that have killed nearly 300 people. Scheduled talks between Maskhadov and Dagestani President Mahomedali Mahomedov were canceled today after residents blocked incoming roads to the Dagestani meeting site. Protesters said the Chechen president should apologize for the invasions of Dagestan. There were no reports of the meetings being rescheduled.

Meanwhile, Russia continued to bomb the Chechen capital of Grozny and its suburbs for the seventh day. Chechen officials say more than 400 civilians have died in the air strikes, but Moscow has disputed the casualty figure.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it is waiting for permission from Russia before assisting some 60,000 Chechens who have fled to neighboring Ingushetia to escape the air strikes.