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U.S. Appeals Again for Negotiations to End Fighting in Chechnya

January 16, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ As Russian tanks and helicopter gunships pounded a Chechen village again, the State Department reissued a so-far futile appeal to both sides to try resolving their dispute through European mediators.

``We’re deeply disturbed by the violence,″ spokesman Nicholas Burns said Tuesday. ``The longer the violence goes on, the more extreme the positions of the parties seem to be.″

The village, Pervomayskaya, took a pounding a second day, but Chechen gunmen hiding in burned-out buildings clung to their positions, refusing to free dozens of hostages.

Burns called them terrorists ``pure and simple,″ and asserted again the Clinton administration’s policy against violent secession by Chechnya, whose leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, declared independence in 1991.

Including Moscow in the criticism, the spokesman said the hostage-taking and the Russian military response had created dangers of broadening the conflict and intensifying it.

``We call on both sides to return to the negotiations to resolve this tragic conflict,″ he said.

``We have consistently advised the Russian government and the Chechens that the only way to resolve this conflict is through negotiation,″ the spokesman went on. ``We have encouraged the Russian government to work with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. We’ve urged the Chechens to work with them on ways to mediate the conflict.

``But nothing that we’ve seen over the past couple of days gives us any hope right now that either side has really heard that message.″

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was due to fly overnight to Bonn, Germany, where he expects to meet with Georgi Mamedov, the Russian deputy foreign minister. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, meanwhile, plans to confer with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov next month. Burns said they had not discussed Chechnya in their telephone conversation last week after Primakov was named to succeed Andrei Kozyrev.

The ouster of Kozyrev and the departure of some other reform-minded officials from the Russian government have raised questions whether President Boris Yeltsin would trim his economic and political policies to accommodate a rising tide of nationalists and communists.

Burns said Yeltsin’s relationship with the United States would be judged by its actions. The U.S. official expressed hope for a continuation of reform but said it was impossible to predict where Russia would stand in eight or nine months.

He recalled the resignation of prominent reformers Yegor Gaidar and Boris Fedorov two years ago also raised concern that liberalization might be at an end.

``I think what is most noteworthy is the fact that the Russian president, who has been the champion of reform, is still the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin,″ Burns said. ``And so we will be looking for continued advancement on reforms. That’s what has to happen.″

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