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Russians, Chechen Rebels Agree to Tentative Truce; Talks Planned

By James Rupert
The Washington Post
NAZRAN, Russian

Russian and Chechen rebel commanders agreed Monday to a limited cease-fire in a two-month-old war that has laid waste the capital of the secessionist southern region, left thousands dead and threatened the stability of President Boris Yeltsin's government.

The tentative truce calls for both sides to halt the use of heavy weapons at least until Wednesday, when a second round of talks could broaden the cease-fire to include all weapons.

Ingush Vice President Boris Agapov, who hosted the cease-fire talks, said the warring parties agreed to "stop using air forces, heavy artillery and grenade launchers" - strictures that affect the Russians far more than the lightly armed Chechen insurgents.

The top-level talks were the first between the two sides since Moscow sent 40,000 troops to crush Chechnya's three-year-old drive for independence.

When the Russian offensive began, Kremlin officials proclaimed that its purpose was to eliminate the "armed criminals" leading the Chechen rebellion and to restore "constitutional order" to the Caucasus Mountain region of 800,000 people.

Moscow had repeatedly scorned the notion of peace talks with rebel leaders unless the insurgents first agreed to lay down their arms. Since then, however, the rebels have fought a furious battle to defend Grozny, their capital, repulsing wave after wave of attackers until relentless Russian heavy artillery fire reduced the city to a smoking ruin.

In effect, Russian forces destroyed the city of 400,000 in order to control it, but that still left them facing the prospect of becoming bogged down in a bloody guerrilla war much like the recent decade-long debacle in Afghanistan that took the lives of 13,000 Soviet troops.

For Yeltsin, too, the war has proven a political cancer, as most of his longtime reformist allies have spoken out against the Russian offensive on human rights grounds, and a number of senior military officers sharply criticized the inadequacies of the once vaunted Russian army it has exposed.