The border between Russia proper and Chechnya has been opened again but tensions remain high in the wake of the fatal April 28 bombing in Pyatigorsk and of the shoot-out that occurred later that night between Russian border police and a band of twenty Chechens trying to cross into Dagestan. Border crossings were sealed for four hours yesterday before Russian interior minister Anatoly Kulikov announced that two Chechen women had been detained on suspicion of the bombing, which killed two people and injured 15 others. Kulikov identified the women as Fatima Tainaskhanova and Aiset Dodasheva and said they had confessed to the bombing. According to Kulikov, the two were also involved in the 1995 Budennovsk hostage- taking. (Itar-Tass, RTR, April 29)
These accusations are strongly denied by the Chechen authorities, who have retaliated with counter-accusations that the Russian security services planted both bombs in order to undermine the peace process. The Chechen side admits that three women took part in the Budennovsk raid, but maintains that they are all now in Chechnya.
Peace talks between Moscow and Chechnya are now in complete disarray. Djohar- gala says it would like the OSCE mission in Chechnya to resume the role of mediation that it played during the period when open warfare raged. But, as Russian TV pointed out last night, the Chechen leadership is not united. First Deputy Premier Movladi Udugov says that negotiations between Moscow and Djohar-gala must continue, while Vice President Vakha Arsanov has called for negotiations to be broken off until Kulikov apologizes for accusing Chechens of terrorist acts. President Aslan Maskhadov is in the middle: he has called for a peace treaty to be signed as soon as possible by himself and Russian president Boris Yeltsin but has also protested against what he calls Russia’s unsubstantiated accusations. (RTR, April 29)
Opinions in Moscow are also divided. Kulikov calls Djohar-gala’s denials "absurd," while Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says Moscow believes that the Maskhadov leadership was not involved in the Pyatigorsk bombing and that the incident must not be allowed to derail the peace process. In another example of apparent criticism aimed at Kulikov, Security Council deputy secretary Boris Berezovsky has called for a halt to "irresponsible statements" which, he said, are undermining negotiations. (RTR, April 29)
Kulikov for his part maintains that Maskhadov has lost control of the situation in Chechnya and that, unless Moscow takes immediate steps to reinforce security, the whole of the North Caucasus region could be destabilized. Djohar-gala fears that pressure in building on President Boris Yeltsin to declare emergency rule throughout the region. Yeltsin, still on holiday in Sochi, met yesterday with the governor of Stavropol krai, Aleksandr Chernogorov, who warned him of the danger of pogroms against the Chechen diaspora in the region. (RTR, April 29) Cossacks are reportedly organizing to repel any attack from across the Chechen border. (NTV, April 29) Although the border was sealed off for four hours yesterday, Russian police acknowledge that it is impossible for them to patrol all the tiny footpaths that connect Russia proper to Chechnya.
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