- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

From combined dispatches
MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin sent an envoy yesterday to oversee his call for Chechen rebels to surrender, but critics dismissed the move and its link to Russian support for U.S. military action in Afghanistan.
The Russian president announced on Monday that guerrillas in the breakaway province had 72 hours to initiate talks with Russian officials on disarming and ending a grinding war that Moscow says is backed by "international terrorists."
Mr. Putin did not say in his statement what would happen after the 72 hours elapsed.
In response, Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov appointed a negotiator for talks with Russia, saying there were "real chances" for peace following Mr. Putin's offer for renewed contacts, his spokesman said.
In the past, Mr. Putin has always ruled out talks of any kind with Chechen rebels, saying that there was nothing to negotiate and that the only way out of the two-year conflict in the separatist republic was unconditional rebel surrender.
Russian officials have consistently sought to link the Chechen insurgency with Islamic militancy, describing the rebels as "terrorists" trained and funded by terrorist organizations in Afghanistan.
Recent polls have suggested Russian public opinion is growing weary of the military operation begun Oct. 1, 1999, to put down a separatist insurgency in the breakaway republic following a similar unsuccessful war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996.
In Moscow, analysts scoffed at the Putin proposal, saying that it was merely an attempt to justify Russia's crackdown in Chechnya to the world by bringing it under the umbrella of fighting terrorism.


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