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Chechen says optimistic after Moscow talks

ISTANBUL, Nov 18 (Reuters) - An envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov said after talks in Moscow on Sunday, the first publicly acknowledged contacts since war started two years ago, he was optimistic about a peace deal with the Kremlin. Akhmed Zakayev, who flew to Moscow on Sunday for previously unannounced talks, told a news conference in Istanbul he held three hours of talks with President Vladimir Putin's envoy to southern Russia, Viktor Kazantsev.

"We were very happy with the meetings. We believe the talks will continue and end positively," he said. "The most important goal of these talks was to stop the war in Chechnya."

Russia refused to allow mediators at talks with the rebels, who continue guerrilla resistance after having been driven from much of the northern Caucasus region by Russian forces. But Zakayev was accompanied to Moscow from Istanbul by a Turkish politician.

"The meetings were very positive," the politician, Besim Tibuk, head of the small Liberal Democratic Party, told the same news conference. "These talks were a first step. The Turkish government were informed but we didn't go there on behalf of the Turkish government. We went independently."

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