Yeltsin orders forces to end their fighting with Chechen rebels Peace effort appears to be campaign-season rehash of failed initiative

April 01, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered his troops yesterday to end combat actions against rebel Chechnya and announced that a phased withdrawal of federal forces will begin from areas of the breakaway republic already bludgeoned into submission.

But a simultaneous vow to continue fighting against "terrorist acts" suggested that Mr. Yeltsin's latest endeavor to stop the war he instigated 15 months ago was little more than a repackaging of failed initiatives from the past.

Mr. Yeltsin's campaign-season peace plan, disclosed during a taped address on national television, was prompted by his earlier admission that he cannot win re-election if the war that has claimed at least 20,000 lives is still raging.

Trailing his Communist opponent as the June 16 presidential election nears, Mr. Yeltsin had vowed to craft a fresh strategy for ending the bloodshed while keeping the secessionist southern republic within the Russian federation.

Although the 65-year-old president proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire starting at midnight yesterday, he sought to justify the federal military assaults in Chechnya as having "promoted the necessary prerequisites for a fundamental change in the situation."

The initiative departs from previous policy only in its offer to negotiate through intermediaries with fugitive Chechen leader Dzhokhar M. Dudayev.

Even that concession came grudgingly, with Mr. Yeltsin insisting to Russian journalists after his 20-minute address that it should in no way be interpreted as a "surrender" to a rebel leader whom he has often referred to as a criminal, a bandit and a terrorist.

However it is framed, the offer to negotiate may be too late.

Mr. Dudayev told Western reporters two weeks ago that he would spurn new negotiations with the Yeltsin regime because he had lost all trust in the current leadership and would rather see the Communists return to power.

Mr. Yeltsin's latest offer mostly reiterated proposals that have been on the table since July, when the Kremlin and Dudayev lieutenants agreed to a similar cease-fire and peace talks after a deadly hostage crisis in the southern Russian town of Budennovsk.

Now, as then, Moscow has offered local elections to allow the people of Chechnya to choose their own leaders, but without specifying when the vote could be held.

The current overture also repeats that Chechnya could win an unprecedented degree of autonomy from Moscow in the course of negotiations, a move that still falls short of Mr. Dudayev's demands for total independence.

Sporadic fighting has erupted in Chechnya since it became obvious within a few weeks of the July partial peace accord that federal authorities and rebel leaders could not agree on the republic's status. The Kremlin insists that Chechnya remain part of Russia, while Mr. Dudayev wants secession.

Previous cease-fires have failed to stop the fighting in Chechnya because they, like the one announced yesterday, leave federal troops in the region vulnerable to revenge attacks by rebels that have invariably provoked a return of fire.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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