Russia and Chechnya seek to ease tensions

Jan 12, 1998 01:00 AM

Russia and Chechnya have pledged to mend relations which have taken a sharp turn for the worse over the past three weeks.
Russian officials held talks in the Chechen capital Grozny with separatist leaders, four days after Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov strained already uneasy ties by threatening "preventative strikes against bandits" in Chechnya.
"There have been too much politics in Moscow's relationships with Chechnya and little work. We came to do concrete work," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov said.
Kulikov, who blamed Chechens for raids on a Russian tank unit and police post in neighbouring Dagestan on December 22, sparked an angry and defiant reaction from Chechen leaders and was rebuked for his remarks by fellow officials in Moscow.
The talks focused on economic issues including rebuilding Chechnya after a 1994-6 war between the separatists and Russian troops, both sides said they wanted to give a new impetus to relations. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basayev expressed willingness to cooperate, but said it was mainly up to Moscow. "Chechnya expects Russia to fulfil its obligations, especially in the economic sphere... Then cooperation in other areas will develop successfully," he said.
Chechnya suffered widespread damage in the war, which ended with the withdrawal of Russian troops and a deal to postpone a decision on the republic's political status for five years. However, Moscow insists it is still part of the Russian Federation. A strategic oil pipeline runs across the territory.
On January 1, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov asked Basayev to form a new government aimed partly at increasing control over the militias which mushroomed in Chechnya after the war, in a bid to put an end to a rash of kidnappings.
Two Swedish Christian missionaries abducted recently near Chechnya were the latest foreigners to be caught up in the kidnapping wave, in which hostage-takers often demand huge ransoms.
Five Polish and two British aidworkers, two Hungarians and a Turkish businessman are also being held.

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