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Associated Press, May 18, 2003

Russia Lawmakers: End Abuses In Chechnya, Open Peace Talks

MOSCOW (AP) - Liberal Russian lawmakers called Sunday for an end to abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya and for talks aimed at bringing peace to the region, where deadly violence has persisted despite the Kremlin's efforts to defeat rebels and enhance stability.

Speaking during a weekly news show on TVS television, Itogi, legislator Boris Nemtsov said Russian authorities should enter negotiations with armed separatists in Chechnya, an idea President Vladimir Putin has rejected.

"It is perfectly clear that without a dialogue there will be no calm or peace," said Nemtsov, leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party. Pointing to two separate suicide attacks that killed a total of at least 78 people last week, he said Russia's policy of maintaining a massive military force in Chechnya has been ineffective.

Nemtsov said that in the most recent war in Chechnya, which began in 1999, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and that "many of them disappeared without a trace" in security operations and raids, suggesting that Russian forces were to blame. "This bacchanalia must be put to a stop," he said.

Nemtsov spoke two days after Putin confidently predicted in his annual address to the nation that Russia will defeat rebels in Chechnya, a sign the Kremlin intends to continue military operations while also pursuing other ways to establish stability. Thursday, Putin offered a partial amnesty to rebels who agreed to put down their weapons.

The Kremlin has hailed a March constitutional referendum that cemented Chechnya's status as part of Russia as a major step on the path to peace in the region, where separatists have been fighting Russian forces for nearly a decade.

Another guest on Itogi, lawmaker Sergei Ivanenko of the liberal Yabloko party, said ending human rights abuses that rights groups and civilians widely accuse Russian forces of carrying out must be the first step on any road to a settlement. The next step would be a conference to discuss peace that would be led by Putin, he said.

He said Yabloko had presented its Chechnya settlement plan to Putin and discussed it with him, but that the president has pursued a different policy.

A lawmaker from a pro-Putin party, Georgy Boos of the Fatherland-All Russia faction in the State Duma, Russia's lower parliament house, said he believes the Kremlin is on the right track in Chechnya but that the bloodshed won't end soon.

He praised the constitutional referendum and plans for parliamentary and presidential elections in Chechnya. But he said he fears that "for long years to come, terrorist acts...will shake not only the land of the Chechen Republic itself but unfortunately also the rest of Russia ."

"Unfortunately, one can begin a war quickly and easily, but it is always hard to end one," he said.

Russian forces pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 after a devastating 20-month war, leaving the region in separatist control. They returned in 1999 after rebel attacks in neighboring Dagestan and after about 300 people died in apartment-building explosions that Russian officials blamed on militants from the region.


See also:

War in Chechnya

Associated Press, May 18, 2003

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