Negotiators for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov met in Moscow Sunday for talks aimed at ending a two-year war that has claimed more than 15,000 lives.
Few details have been released of the talks, which were held behind closed doors at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Moscow's special envoy on Chechnya, Viktor Kazantsev, met for two hours with Akhmed Zakayev, who flew in from Istanbul for the talks.
It was the first face-to-face dialogue between the two sides since Russia sent troops into Chechnya nearly two years ago.
A spokesman for Mr. Kazantsev told reporters after the meeting that the talks had laid the groundwork for what he termed "a very serious dialogue." No date has been set for another meeting, nor has a specific agenda been laid out.
On September 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Chechen rebels to discuss disarming and abandoning their separatist war. Mr. Putin had previously referred to the Chechen leadership as outlaws who had no place at the negotiating table.
The Chechen representative, Mr. Zakayev, said the meeting was a result of Mr. Putin's call for dialogue. He said he hopes the meeting triggers an open negotiating process that will end the war.
The Chechens are fighting what they say is a war for independence from Russia. The Kremlin calls them terrorists and says Chechen rebels have links with international terrorists including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Violent incidents are reported nearly every day in Chechnya. Even as the talks were going on in Moscow, there were reports that two Russian policemen were killed in a bomb attack in the Chechen capital, Grozny.