Seven months after Russian forces invaded the secessionist region of Chechnya, peace negotiators for both sides said Friday night they have reached an agreement that will guarantee the region “the broadest form of statehood,” but not the total independence it sought.
Details of the accord will not be released officially before it is signed in the next day or two, the negotiators said in Grozny, the Chechen capital. But the main points were reported Friday night on Independent Russian Television.
The specific legal status of the region will be determined by the Chechen people after elections to be held later this year, the report said. Chechnya will be permitted to call itself independent as long as it remains a part of Russia. Fighting in the region since last December has destroyed wide swaths of the southern republic and killed or wounded thousands of people.
Any peace accord faces a precarious future since Russian nationalists will oppose any agreement that grants any form of independence to Chechnya, as this reportedly does, and die-hard Chechen rebels will never accept life under the Russian flag.
But it has been clear since Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin led a marathon of negotiations with a rebel leader who had taken hundreds of civilians hostage last month in a small Russian town called Budyonnovsk, that he would do almost anything to end the fighting.
In Chechnya, hunger, homelessness and the loss of families and loved ones has wiped away much of their defiance.
“Today we have reached an agreement in principle on the central question of the status of the Chechen republic,” Vyacheslav Mikhailov, Russia’s chief negotiator and newly appointed minister of nationalities, announced in Grozny Friday afternoon. He gave no details.
Neither did his Chechen counterpart, Usman Imayev. But Imayev’s actions spoke loudly enough. At the end of Friday’s session he leapt onto the top of a flatbed truck and sent a crowd of several hundred Chechens into a frenzy of celebration by declaring: “There is no doubt the independent state of Chechnya will exist. Now all of us should restore order and prepare for elections.”
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