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Russia: Chechen Leader Offers Talks; Troops In Grozny Suburbs

Grozny, 15 December 1999 (RFE/RL) - Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov today offered to compromise with Russians to end the fighting in his republic as Russian forces were battling on the outskirts of the capital, Grozny. But Russia signalled that it only wanted to discuss humanitarian issues. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said he was ready to meet Maskhadov today or tomorow but indicated the talks would be about evacuating civilians trapped in Grozny. There was a question mark over whether Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman Knut Vollebaek, who is touring the North Caucasus, would be allowed to be involved in any talks.

Maskhadov said he wants the OSCE chief present at any meeting with Shoigu and Vollebaek said he is willing to attend. The OSCE wants a role in helping to settle the Chechen conflict.

Shoigu was cool to the idea of Vollebaek taking part in a meeting with Maskhadov. Russia has consistently rejected any offers of outside mediation. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeyev, accompanying Vollebaek, said Chechnya was an internal Russian affair and called outside mediation proposals "artificial."

But ITAR-TASS said the government was considering allowing Vollebaek's involvement. Vollebaek was due to fly this morning to the Russian-controlled part of Chechnya but his flight was delayed by bad weather. He said he is ready to stay on until Christmas if he can play a role.

Chechen and Russian sources both said Russian forces were today attacking in suburbs in the north and southeast of Grozny and both claimed to have killed high numbers of the enemy.

Russian Deputy Chief of Staff General Valery Manilov said there would be no massive air or ground assault against Grozny while civilians remained there.