Chechen conflict cannot be resolved by force says separatist envoy
26 February 2005
BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union
Text of report by Russian Ekho Moskvy radio on 26 February
[Presenter] A delegation of the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee is about to return from London to Moscow these very minutes after talks with Akhmed Zakayev, the envoy of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. As is known, talks were held on Friday [25 February] and a joint memorandum on the crisis settlement in the North Caucasus was worked out. The main point of this document is that the Chechen conflict may not be resolved through force, Akhmed Zakayev told our radio station.
[Zakayev] The proposals on peaceful settlement are based on two principles. First, these are a cease-fire and demilitarization with involvement of peacekeeping forces which may be set up upon the agreement of the sides. The political settlement should be based on the peace accord signed by Boris Yeltsin and Maskhadov in 1997.
[Presenter] The settlement of the Chechen problem is in the hands of the two peoples who should act as a united front against those who want the continuation of the war, Akhmed Zakayev added.
Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 1900 gmt 26 Feb 05
Chechen peace plan risks Kremlin anger.
By JON BOONE and NEIL BUCKLEY
26 February 2005
A group representing mothers of Russian soldiers risked Kremlin fury yesterday when it signed a "road to peace" proposal with Chechen rebel representatives.
The Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers (UCMS) and Akhmed Zakayev, envoy of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, agreed at a meeting in London that the decade-old conflict in Chechnya could not be settled by force. They blamed the growth of terrorism in the breakaway republic on the "short-sighted and criminal policies" of the Russian government.
The peace proposal, understood to centre around a gradual cessation of violence by rebels, was seen as another attempt by Mr Maskhadov to reach out to ordinary Russians. The rebel leader recently called a three-week ceasefire and urged Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to start peace talks.
The Russian authorities ignored the offer, dismissing Mr Maskhadov as a terrorist who was not in control of all Chechen forces. But the latest overtures could put Mr Putin under pressure from his own citizens, anxious to end the bloody conflict and avoid further terrorist attacks in Russia such as last year's school siege in Beslan.
Adding to the pressure, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Thursday found Russia guilty of serious breaches of human rights during offensives in Chechnya.
Mr Zakayev said yesterday's meeting, organised by European parliament members, showed talking with Chechen leaders was not dangerous. "So far the Russian side is talking at the distance of a cannon shot, but hopefully the example of the Russian women will show that talking to us is better than firing a gun."
The meeting could fuel tensions between the UK and Russia. Russia claims Mr Zakayev is a terrorist and has demanded his extradition from Britain, where he has been granted asylum.
Moscow recently issued angry protests when UK TV broadcast an interview with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen extremist who masterminded the Beslan attack.
London meeting with Chechen rebel envoy "step in right direction" - Berezovskiy
25 February 2005
BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union
Russian emigre tycoon Boris Berezovskiy has described a meeting between the Union of Soldiers' Mothers' Committees and Akhmed Zakayev, the envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, in London today as a step in the right direction. Berezovskiy's remarks were broadcast by Russian Ekho Moskvy radio on 25 February.
"The meeting with Zakayev, who is a representative of one of the main forces in action there, is certainly a step in the right direction. Whether soldiers' mothers will be able to help establish peace in Chechnya is another issue. Are they powerful enough in Russia to be able to do that? Zakayev and Maskhadov certainly have both the will and the power to establish peace in Chechnya but they can't do this independently since Russia's will and unfortunately first of all the will of the president himself are also needed for that. As far as I understood the president does not have the will, and not only in resolving this issue, and therefore he needs to be pushed from different sides. In this respect, what soldiers' mothers are doing is certainly a good thing," Berezovskiy said in an interview with the radio.
The chairman of the Duma commission for the North Caucasus, Vladimir Katrenko, said he had doubts as to whether the talks would bring positive results. "It is doubtful that this can bring any real results except to attract the attention of the public," he said.
Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 1500 gmt 25 Feb 05
Russian anti-war group meets Chechen rebel envoy.
By James Kilner
25 February 2005
(c) 2005 Reuters Limited
LONDON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - A Russian human rights group met an envoy of Chechnya's rebel leader in London on Friday in an unprecedented bid to kickstart peace negotiations that Moscow has spurned.
"We're trying to fight the silence which surrounds this topic in Russia," said Valentina Melnikova, head of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a high-profile rights and anti-war group.
Except for a single meeting in 2001, Russia - which considers the rebels terrorists - has refused any official peace talks with Chechen separatists since launching a second war in the Muslim province more than five years ago.
The Mothers risked the Kremlin's wrath to meet the personal representative of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.
"The Chechen side is ready to cooperate in fighting terrorism, within a bilateral relationship," rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, who has lived in London since receiving asylum in 2003, told a joint news conference.
Under his proposal, which the Mothers offered to take back to Moscow, a withdrawal of Russian troops could follow along the lines of an agreement that ended an earlier war in the mainly Muslim region.
He said the rebels wanted an immediate ceasefire and offered to cooperate with Russia to fight terrorism as the first step in a peace plan.
Maskhadov's allies say such strikes are carried out by renegade warlords outside their command. Moscow, however, sees the rebels themselves as the source of terrorism.
Russian president Vladimir Putin pledged this week to keep up the fight against the rebels, which Moscow blames for attacks such as the Beslan school siege last year in which more than 300 people, half of them children, were killed.
The Mothers' group, which has emerged as one of the few strong anti-war voices in Russia, was founded in the late Soviet times to defend conscripts' rights.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it welcomed any attempt to prevent terrorist attacks in Chechnya but did not believe much would come from meeting Zakayev. Pro-Moscow Chechens said the meeting was a waste of time.
"What does Zakayev have? absolutely nothing," said Ruslan Yamadayev, a former rebel and now member of Russia's parliament.
"Zakayev sits in Europe, you can say he's a refugee," he told Ekho Moskvy radio.
An attempt last year by the Mothers group to meet Zakayev in Brussels was thwarted when the Belgian government refused the mothers and Zakayev visas.
The Kremlin strongly denounced those plans, but Russian officials were more relaxed in public about the meeting this week once it became clear it would take place.
Two men from the Russian Embassy in London watched the news conference.
Russian NGO, Chechen Rebel Envoy Sign "Peace Memorandum"
25 February 2005
Dow Jones International News
(c) 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
LONDON (AP)--Representatives of a prominent Russian non-governmental organization and a Chechen rebel envoy signed a peace memorandum Friday, hailing it as a first step toward ending the war in Chechnya.
However, a senior official in the Kremlin-backed Chechen government dismissed their talks as hopeless.
Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers which acts as a watchdog over the Russian military, and Akhmed Zakayev, envoy for Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, said the memorandum would start the process toward peace in the region.
"Today's meeting and this memorandum is a first step in these negotiations. I hope very much that this first step is big enough and that peace is in view," Melnikova told a news conference in London after the talks.
"Courageous Russian women have shown Russian generals that talking to us is not dangerous at all," Zakayev said. "So far the Russian side is talking to us at the distance of a canon shot, but hopefully the example of the Russian women will show them that talks are better than firing from any sort of guns."
The Russian government has refused to negotiate with Chechen rebels, describing them as terrorists, and has criticized attempts by the mothers group to meet with their representatives.
Speaking in Moscow Friday, Taus Dzhabrailov, chairman of the Chechen State Council - a temporary legislative body that is in place until upcoming parliamentary elections - said the London meeting was "yet another PR campaign" to promote Maskhadov and it could not help end the war.
"Whatever contacts take place, whatever decisions are made, there is no way they can influence the situation in the republic," Dzhabrailov said.
In the memorandum, both groups agree the conflict can't be settled by force, that a peace process is necessary to bring an end to human rights violations and that Russian government policies are to blame for the growth of terrorism in Chechnya.
The parties have also asked the European community to provide greater support for a peace process, while the Chechen representatives called for the deployment of U.N. forces in the region.
Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after a disastrous 20-month war that left the region de facto independent. Troops returned in 1999 after rebels raided the neighboring southern Russian region of Dagestan and after a series of apartment house explosions in three Russian cities that authorities blamed on the militants. [ 25-02-05 1601GMT ]