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Russia: Putin Offers Conditional Amnesty To Rebels

Moscow/Grozny, 25 November 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has offered a conditional amnesty to Chechen rebels who lay down their weapons. Putin made the remark late last night in an interview on Russian television. Putin said he would not prosecute Chechen fighters "whose hands are not stained with the blood of Russian citizens." He said he could ask the Duma, the lower house of parliament, to approve an amnesty. Earlier, he ordered some $115 million to be added to the budget to fund the Chechen operation. He said the cash would come from a budget surplus, mainly the result of higher world prices for Russian oil and gas.

In fighting in Chechnya yesterday, Russian forces kept up their air, missile, and artillery campaign against separatists. The main attacks were directed at the town of Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny. The command also said forces surrounded the town of Argun, east of Grozny. Chechen military commander Mumadi Saydaev said Chechen fighters were in position in both Grozny and Urus-Martan, denying Russian media reports of Chechen withdrawals from the cities.

Meanwhile, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, travels to Moscow Monday to set up a possible visit to Chechnya next month. Earlier this month, Russia denied permission to an OSCE delegation to enter Chechnya while it was visiting the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia