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Russian and Chechen officials hold talks in Switzerland

The Chechen capital, Grozny, has been largely destroyed by the fierce fighting

(Keystone Archive)

Despite Moscow's refusal to enter negotiations with Chechen rebel leaders, Russian parliament members and Chechen officials met in the Swiss city of Montreux between 15 and 20 August to discuss the ongoing conflict in the breakaway republic.

A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman, Ruedi Christen, confirmed that representatives from the two sides had met last month, but said Switzerland had played no role in the talks.

The Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov, told Germany's Deutsche Welle radio that his representatives met unidentified Russian officials for "mutual consultations" which ended "without concrete results."

But Alexander Machevsky, an official at Russia's press office for Chechen affairs, denied that such a meeting had taken place.

Since the start of Russia's latest campaign in Chechnya in 1999, Moscow has repeatedly refused to meet Chechen rebel leaders, branding them bandits and terrorists. "It's senseless to conduct negotiations with terrorists, separatists and people representing them," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman on Chechnya.

According to Swiss newspaper "Le Temps", the Chechen delegation was made up of Ilyas Akhmadov, an official from Chechnya's foreign ministry, and Lyoma Ousmanov, Maskhadov's right-hand man.

The names of Russian parliamentary representatives have not been released and a rebel spokesman reportedly said the Russian officials had asked to remain anonymous.

But Moscow rejected any suggestion that a meeting between the two sides had occurred. "Contrary to what former separatist leader Maskhadov said", Yastrzhembsky argued, Ousmanov never met Russian parliamentarians.

The secret meeting was held on the sidelines of a conference entitled "Globalise Responsibility", which was organised by "Initiatives and Change", an organisation calling for a "moral re-armament." Swiss Cornelio Sommarruga is the head of the organisation.

Russian forces entered Chechnya in September 1999 after Chechen rebels invaded the neighbouring region of Dagestan and were accused of masterminding a series of apartment bombings that killed about 300 people in Moscow and in southern Russia.

Despite claims by Moscow that Russia controls the republic, its troops continue to suffer casualties.

swissinfo with agencies

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