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Kremlin rules out international mediation in Chechen war
July 18, 2003

Russia will not invite international mediators to help end the war in its breakaway republic of Chechnya, the Kremlin's top spokesman on Chechnya said Friday.

"We are fully capable of solving the Chechen problem without any kind of international mediators," Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Interfax news agency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has launched a political process to end the war that has been raging between federal forces and separatist rebels in the mainly Muslim republic since October 1999, but is refusing to hold talks with the rebels.

"After the first Chechen campaign Russia had the option to use mediators and it found that option unsuccessful, to put it lightly," Yastrzhembsky said.

"The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) representatives lost the objectivity that a mediator should have and took the side of the separatists," he charged.

The OSCE oversaw polls which led to the election of rebel leader Aslan Makhadov as Chechen president in 1997, after rebel forces defeated Moscow in an earlier 1994-96 war.

Moscow has since disavowed Maskhadov, branding him a "terrorist."

"The only way out of the conflict in Chechnya is through talks -- but not direct ones, with the help of international mediators like the OSCE or UN," Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the Helsinki rights group's Moscow bureau, told journalists Friday.

The OSCE withdrew its staff from Chechnya in December after its mandate elapsed and Moscow said the mission had to confine itself to humanitarian and not political operations if it wished to have its mandate renewed.

The group had accused federal troops of rights violations in the region.

It sent an observer to monitor a March referendum in which Chechens adopted a new constitution sealing their republic's place within the Russian Federation.

The observer cautiously endorsed the poll, whose results were widely questioned by other on-scene observers and rights groups.

The next step in the Kremlin's peace plan is an October 5 presidential vote, but the OSCE has not yet said whether it will send observers and Moscow has not publicly issued an invitation.

An envoy for Maskhadov on Friday rejected the election, in which Russian officials have forbidden the rebel leader to stand.

"The spectacle which the Russian leadership is presenting on Chechen territory has no legal basis," Osman Farzauli told Echo Moscow radio.

Rebels have vowed to disrupt Putin's peace process, killing nearly 200 people in Chechnya and Moscow in a series of suicide bombings since December.

But Yastrzhembsky said the process was going according to plan.

"The activity of federal forces has been considerably reduced since the referendum," he said.

"The cleaning up operations that caused such a negative reaction among residents has practically stopped. There are fewer checkpoints," he said.

Yet casualties continue to pour in from the republic, and Interfax reported Friday that a police officer had been gunned down in central Grozny.

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