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Yeltsin Offers Limited Autonomy to Chechnya

Russia: The plan would give the republic control of its resources and finances but not full independence.

May 30, 1996| From Associated Press

MOSCOW — President Boris N. Yeltsin offered Chechnya control over its own finances and natural resources on Wednesday in a push for peace that he hopes will yield him votes in Russia's upcoming presidential election.

His power-sharing plan would keep the separatist republic within the Russian fold, however, and denies the rebels the complete independence they have demanded.

The power-sharing plan was released two days after Russian and Chechen leaders agreed to a cease-fire, and it was timed for the run-up to the country's June 16 election.

Russian officials, however, warned that not all rebel fighters will stick to the truce when it goes into effect Saturday and that the fighting may not be over even with a cease-fire.

The entirely Russian-written plan has yet to be negotiated with the rebels. The issue of Chechnya's status has stalled previous attempts to negotiate an end to the unpopular, 17-month-long war, which has left as many as 30,000 people dead.

But Russia's military spokesman said Wednesday that the rebel military commander, Aslan Maskhadov, had sent a radio message to his forces ordering them to refrain from attacks on Russian soldiers.

Russia's army, for its part, has ignored previous Yeltsin declarations that fighting must stop. Russian forces have pounded rebel positions in recent weeks.

The power-sharing plan defines Chechnya as a sovereign state within the Russian Federation, giving it control over its finances and resources.

Russia would still control weapons production and trade, but Yeltsin offered to "jointly settle" issues of troop deployment in the region.

The plan, drafted by a presidential commission, is similar to one signed between Moscow and the oil-rich republic of Tatarstan in 1994.

A new round of talks will be held this weekend in Makhachkala, the capital of the region of Dagestan, Russian officials said. Maskhadov and the federal commander in Chechnya, Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, are expected to take part.

A chief mediator, Tim Guldimann of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said he was optimistic that peace could be brought to Chechnya as long as the cease-fire leads to more detailed agreements.

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