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Rebel Leader Wants Chechnya Recognized Dudayev Says He’ll Step Down If Nation Granted Independence

Adding his own defiant twist to fragile peace talks, Dzhokhar Dudayev, the rebel president of Chechnya who remains in hiding, has told a top Russian negotiator that he would step down - but only if Russia recognized Chechnya’s independence.

A senior member of the Russian delegation to peace talks in Grozny, the Chechen capital, traveled to a secret location in rebel-held territory on Sunday to hear Dudayev’s position.

The envoy, Arkady Volsky, said on Monday that he asked Dudayev to step down in exchange for the resignation of the Moscow-backed provisional government of Chechnya.

Moscow has not responded to the condition Dudayev set for accepting a political resolution to the war.

It raises a central issue but one so problematic that it has only been gingerly addressed in the talks: how much independence is Moscow prepared to grant the secessionist republic in return for peace?

Until now, Moscow has refused to deal directly with the rebel president, and has issued a warrant for his arrest. Volsky on Monday repeated Russia’s insistence that it would only recognize Chechnya’s sovereignty if it were subject to the constitution of the Russian Federation.

Moscow seems determined to keep the negotiations on track. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said on Monday he had no problem with his envoy’s meeting with Dudayev, explaining that “the main thing is to end the war.”

And it was in an effort to keep peace talks alive that Volsky, who spoke with Dudayev for four hours, tried to persuade him to embrace the “zero option,” a proposal calling for both Dudayev and the Moscowbacked provisional government to simultaneously resign to pave the way for elections later this year.

Volsky said he told Dudayev to resign - or leave Russian territory.