Kremlin begins talks with Chechen rebels

MOSCOW -- A prominent representative of Chechnya's rebels met with an envoy of President Vladimir Putin on Sunday for the first face-to-face talks on ending hostilities since renewed war broke out in the separatist region two years ago.

Viktor Kazantsev, Putin's envoy for Chechnya, met behind closed doors at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 international airport with Akhmed Zakayev, a representative of Chechnya's rebel president Aslan Maskhadov. Zakayev flew in from Turkey.

Kazantsev said the two-hour meeting "went exclusively along the lines of the recent statement" by Putin, according to the Interfax news agency.

He was referring to a speech Putin made Sept. 24 outlining Russia's response to the terror attacks in the United States, in which he urged Chechen rebels to discuss disarming and abandoning their separatist fight.

"The parties aired their intention to seek a lasting peace in Chechnya," Kazantsev's adviser Maxim Fedorenko said, according to Interfax.

The war has been locked in a bloody stalemate for more than a year: Russian forces have not fulfilled Putin's 1999 vow to crush the rebels, and while the insurgents kill Russian soldiers in ambushes and mine blasts almost every day, they have not mounted large-scale attacks.

The Sept. 11 attacks and the worldwide response appear to have profoundly affected the war in Chechnya.

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