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Russian Pullout Resumes in Chechnya

August 28, 1996| From Associated Press

GROZNY, Russia — Federal military commanders agreed Tuesday to resume withdrawing troops from Chechnya, propping up a shaky truce in the 20-month war that had been threatened by a dispute over missing guns.

Truckloads of gloomy Russian soldiers poured out of the shattered capital, Grozny, and the nearby region of Vedeno. Tired but jubilant Chechen rebels celebrated in the streets.

A bearded rebel fighter wearing blue fatigues was barely able to contain his joy.

"I didn't think I'd live to see this day," Ansor Mosalatov said.

Russian Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov and Chechen separatist chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov signed a protocol Tuesday calling for the troop withdrawal to resume throughout the republic this morning. They also agreed on a prisoner exchange.

"We're planning for the troop withdrawal to finish no later than Aug. 31," Tikhomirov told reporters after the signing in Noviye Atagi, a village 10 miles south of Grozny.

The Russian military suspended the pullout--part of the truce reached by national security chief Alexander I. Lebed and Maskhadov last week--after accusing the Chechens of taking weapons from Russian troops over the weekend.

The Chechens returned some of the arms, but the Russian military wanted all the guns back.

On Tuesday, Tikhomirov said, "We've resolved the problem about stolen weapons."

The truce calls for both sides to withdraw their forces from the Chechen capital, leaving security in the hands of joint military patrols. The Russian-Chechen patrols have been operating in Grozny since Sunday.

Also Tuesday, a bitter foe of Lebed's peace initiative emerged: Doku Zavgayev, head of the Moscow-installed Chechen government that even some Kremlin officials now admit is a "fiction."

Zavgayev accused Lebed of making secret deals with Chechen separatists. "Grozny was given away by Lebed to terrorists. Lebed is responsible for this," he told reporters in Moscow.

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