Russia declared a crackdown on Chechen rebels Monday and said it would pull out of peace talks if separatist leaders did not accept its terms for implementing a military agreement.
But Russian news agencies said separatist commander Aslan Maskhadov had refused to sign a protocol setting out mechanisms for rebel disarmament and a prisoner exchange in return for the withdrawal of some of Moscow’s troops from Chechnya--a small, mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.
A government statement accused the rebels, led by separatist Dzhokar M. Dudayev, of trying to alter the July 30 military accord, which seemed at the time to promise an end to bloodshed.
There has been little appreciable letup in combat since the agreement. At least 10 Russian soldiers have been killed and 37 wounded, according to official figures. Chechen casualties have not been reported.
Russia’s impatient ultimatum and the Chechens’ refusal raised the prospect of a flare-up in the fighting, which raged for months after Moscow sent troops in December to crush a 3-year-old independence drive.
“The Russian government believes that the continuation of talks on peacefully resolving the situation in the Chechen republic is possible only on the condition that the ‘Dudayev side’ takes real and immediate steps to fulfill all the points of the signed agreement,” the statement said.
“The Russian government warns that it will not allow illegal armed formations and groups carrying out violence, terrorist acts and sabotage to continue operating in the republic,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted the statement as saying.
Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin said earlier that the rebels would face tough measures if they did not accept Moscow’s terms for disarming by Monday afternoon.
Itar-Tass reported from Grozny, the Chechen capital, that “around 5 p.m. [Monday], Aslan Maskhadov said he could not sign the document offered by Russia because he does not agree with some of its points.”
It quoted Maskhadov as saying after talks with Anatoly Romanov, Russia’s chief military commander in Chechnya, that he remained committed to the deal and would meet Romanov again today.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, who Aug. 3 hailed the peace accord as the first “concrete success” on the path toward peace and a “real opportunity” to end the war, Monday summoned Chernomyrdin and two other top ministers to express his dissatisfaction with delays in disarming the rebels.
After the meeting, Chernomyrdin told reporters: “Conditions have been set for the Chechen side. If they go on playing tricks, the toughest measures will be taken.”
The military deal does not touch on political issues. Full-scale talks on the region’s political future have been put off until Chechnya holds elections in November.
The separatists want full independence. Moscow is offering limited sovereignty within Russia.