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Chechen Leader Offers Olive Branch

The embattled president of the secessionist Chechen region, Dzhokhar Dudayev, met with reporters Wednesday for the first time in three weeks to urge talks with Russian government leaders on a peaceful end to the war and to concede that Chechnya could not win a war with Russia.

As reinforced Russian troops pressed ever closer to his presidential palace in central Grozny, Dudayev did not exclude some kind of negotiated autonomy within the Russian Federation for Chechnya and said that “everything can be settled in an hour.”

Dudayev also said he no longer would insist that all Russian troops withdraw from Chechnya before talks begin, an earlier condition he had placed on negotiations that Moscow did not accept.

Russia has insisted that Chechnya is an inalienable part of Russia and must give up its claims of independence, although it has offered to negotiate extensive autonomy for the Chechens, as it has for other regions such as Tatarstan.

Tatarstan has its own president, constitution and legislature and rights over more of its resources and taxes than other purely Russian districts have.

Although Dudayev’s apparent concessions Wednesday would seem to correspond to Moscow’s suggestions, the Russians do not trust Dudayev, who has called for talks before and then has set conditions that the Kremlin finds unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Dudayev’s commander in Grozny said his forces are committed to fighting the Russians but are running out of ammunition and armor. He said the Chechen fighters need anti-aircraft weapons and suffer from lack of organization.”But unit by unit, any professional armies would envy us,” NOT IDENTIFIED FIRST TIME Arsanukayev said. “Even if Grozny is occupied, we won’t stop fighting. We’ll fight not just in Chechnya but in Russia, too.”

Dudayev said at his news conference that no military solution to the fighting in Chechnya is possible and that Russian efforts to force one would lead to a wider war in the Caucasus and more political trouble for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

“Only a peaceful solution is possible,” Dudayev said. “Every day leads to a deepening crisis not here, but in Russia.”

Asked if independence for Chechnya remains non-negotiable, as he has insisted in the past, Dudayev replied: “Full or partial independence - it’s a relative matter. Russia has interests in the Caucasus. But Russia cannot ignore our interests and rights to life, to our point of view. All these issues, everything, can be settled in an hour, with one flick of the pen at the negotiating table.”

Looking trim but pale and surrounded by guards, Dudayev met reporters at the Zarya Sanitarium, a rest house for oil and chemical workers, in southern Grozny, an area Russian troops have not penetrated.

While Dudayev spoke with reporters, fighting continued in the shattered center of Grozny as Russian soldiers and Chechen defenders blasted one another with artillery and rockets near the presidential palace. Russian jets roared overhead but did not drop any bombs.