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Russia Rejects Negotiations with Chechen Leader - 2002-06-25

Russia's defense minister says Moscow is refusing an offer for talks from the rebel leader in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya. The minister says authorities have found new evidence linking Chechen rebels to international terrorist networks.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow that talks with Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov are out of the question unless they are conducted by the public prosecutor.

Mr. Ivanov said talks can take place when Aslan Maskhadov comes out with his hands up and faces the law.

Mr. Ivanov's rejection comes in response to a letter sent by Mr. Maskhadov to the leaders of the world's main industrialized countries, who meet this week in Canada. The letter urges them to pressure Russia to enter into negotiations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is to attend the meeting in Canada. A senior Putin aide, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, has not ruled out talks with the rebels, but he criticized Mr. Maskhadov for trying to bring up the issue at an international forum. Mr. Yastrzhembsky said international involvement is unacceptable since the problems of Chechnya are a Russian internal matter.

The current conflict in Chechnya between Russian forces and the rebels began in 1999. One previous attempt at negotiations ended in failure. Russian authorities have long branded the separatist rebels as bandits with links to Islamic extremist and terrorist networks.

Defense Minister Ivanov said Russian authorities have found new evidence linking Chechen rebels to international terrorists. He said the evidence includes documentation of money transfers to the rebels from sources in Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Pakistan.

Mr. Ivanov also said authorities had uncovered evidence of plans for a major rebel attack on the Chechen capital Grozny.

Mr. Ivanov said the documents include detailed combat plans to capture Grozny and the surrounding area. He said the attack was to have taken place on June 25. The minister said measures were taken to foil the operation, but he provided no other details.

Russian officials have often said that the main military phase of their operations in Chechnya are over. The conflict has, however, turned into a guerrilla-type war in which Russian troops, rebel fighters and Chechen civilians continue to die on an almost daily basis.