In Chechnya, Inching Toward Peace
GROZNY, Russia (AP) _ Despite a bitter eight-month war, seemingly bottomless mistrust and their leaders’ volleys of inflammatory rhetoric, Russian and Chechen forces are inching toward peace.
Battered jeeps flying the rebels’ green flags were parked outside a Russian command post south of Grozny on Thursday while senior Chechen and Russian military officials huddled inside, discussing how to implement the troubled peace pact signed last month.
Chechen and Russian mothers sat patiently outside, hoping for word of a stalled prisoner exchange _ emotional casualties of the war hoping for a tangible result from the peace.
Turmish Buneyeva, a 55-year-old Chechen, had not heard from her 35-year-old son, Adam, since he disappeared in March.
``The Russian mothers are crying, we’re crying _ we’re all equal under Allah,″ she said, clutching a photograph of Adam and his young family.
Inside a stuffy bus guarded by Chechen fighters outside the peace talks site, five Russian prisoners brought down from the mountains awaited their fate.
One of them, 25-year-old military engineer Alexander Kapanadze, had a bad wound in the leg.
``I don’t want to go back. I feel at home in the mountains,″ he said. The others declined to speak.
The two sides accuse each other of holding more prisoners than they have admitted, stalling the ``all-for-all″ exchange.
Poor communications and competing political agendas are hampering other points of the accord.
Lt. Col. Vasily Panchenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said Chechen fighters were laying down weapons in three towns Thursday. But he claimed rebel forces had attacked Russian positions 19 times the previous night.
``They (the Russians) say they have started to withdraw troops, but I don’t know of one tank or battalion being taken from Chechen territory,″ said Movlen Salamov, a senior aide to Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.
He claimed the Russians had bombed areas in the Achkhoy-Martan district, 15 miles southwest of Grozny, and the southwestern towns of Bamut, Orekhova and Roshni Chu.
Russian officials confirmed the attack on Roshni Chu, and said it was in response to shelling of Russian positions, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Despite an uneasy truce declared weeks ago, nightly skirmishes continue. One Russian serviceman was killed overnight Wednesday and six were wounded in fire fights near Achkhoy-Martan.
Thousands of people have been killed since Russian troops poured into Chechnya in December to crush its three years of self-declared independence.
Now, the cries of ``Allah Akbar″ as rebel negotiators speed through the countryside testify to strong Chechen support for the rebels’ demand that Russian troops go home.
On the other hand, Dudayev’s Moscow-installed Chechen opponents and other nationalities in Chechnya fear a Russian withdrawal.
In the bombed-out remains of a Grozny barber shop, Lyuda Alexanova, a 31-year-old hairdresser with Russian and Armenian parents, cautioned, ``If Russian troops are withdrawn, the Chechens will start fighting each other again and we’ll get caught in the middle.″