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Chechen Government Begins Election in Defiance of Peace Accord

June 14, 1996

GROZNY, Russia (AP) _ Chechnya’s government opened polls today for presidential and parliamentary elections, despite threats by rebel forces to block the voting.

The government led by Doku Zavgayev, which Moscow installed in Chechnya last year after driving the rebels out of the republic’s capital of Grozny, said the elections would last three days to boost turnout. Chechens are voting for a local parliament and for president of Russia.

``Maximum number of voters are thus encouraged to express their will,″ Yakub Sabirov, a deputy head of the Central Election Commission, told the Interfax news agency.

There was no immediate word on turnout among Chechnya’s 470,000 eligible voters. The Kremlin-backed Chechen government originally set the vote for Sunday, the same day as the Russian presidential elections.

Rebels see the elections as a violation of an agreement they signed with Moscow earlier this week, which contained a provision that the parliamentary vote would be held only after Russian troops leave the breakaway republic.

Separatists said they would prevent ``traitors of the nation″ _ the Moscow-backed Chechen government _ from holding the vote.

Despite the elections, rebels said they would comply with the peace agreement, which calls for Russian troop withdrawal and rebel disarmament by Aug. 30.

Zavgayev’s government was angry at being left out of peace negotiations and fearful of what might happen once Russian troops leave. Zavgayev hopes the elections will strengthen his hold on power.

Russian leaders said the pact’s provision on postponing the vote was only a recommendation, and said Zavgayev was free to make his own decision.

They also indicated the rebels could hold another election after the Russian troop withdrawal.

Vladimir Strashko, deputy presidential envoy to Chechnya, said the vote would help end the conflict by forming a legislature for a ``transitional″ period, which would end with the Russian pullout.

But that failed to appease the rebels, whose representative told Interfax that they would do ``everything to neutralize attempts to drag the lawmaking in the republic into an illegal field.″

Fighting has continued in Chechnya despite a truce arranged last month by President Boris Yeltsin and rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and this week’s military agreement. Both pacts were hailed as breakthroughs in the 18-month-old war and a boost for Yeltsin’s re-election chances Sunday.

The war has killed more than 30,000 people, mostly civilians, since Yeltsin sent troops in December 1994 to crush Chechnya’s independence bid.

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