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Lebed the Peacemaker

Plans are afoot to create an independent peace-making body aimed at solving ethnic and political disputes across the North Caucasus
By Alexander Dzadziev

General Alexander Lebed - the man widely credited with bringing an end to the Chechen war in 1996 - is once again offering his services as a peacemaker.

The former presidential wannabe, who is now governor of the Krasnoyarsky Kray, told an international congress in Pyatigorsk that he is ready to spearhead an initiative to defuse inter-tribal conflict and religious hatred across the North Caucasus.

The initiative is aimed at "gathering together constructive forces in the region" in a bid to encourage dialogue between warring factions - especially in war-torn Chechnya.

Lebed's Peace Mission to the North Caucasus (PMNC) has been working for the past two years to tackle the legacy of military operations in Chechnya. Its achievements include the freeing of 154 prisoners-of-war and civilians taken hostage by rebel groups. PMNC investigators have also repatriated the remains of 19 soldiers who died during the first conflict.

In addition, PMNC has focused on the problems of the Cossacks in the North Caucasus, the development of education, culture and language and economic regeneration. Under the leadership of the noted political analyst Valery Tishkov, the organisation recently produced an independent expert report entitled "The Path to Peace in the North Caucasus".

This month, General Lebed hosted the 1st International Congress for the Development of Amicable Relations Between Peoples, which brought together leaders from across the North Caucasus.

He told delegates that the prime task of any peacemaking body was to bring a swift end to the military campaign in Chechnya. While he supported the appointment of Chechen mufti Akhmad Kadyrov as head of the temporary administration in Chechnya, General Lebed expressed concerns over local opposition to this move.

He believes that the main participants in any peace talks should be "second-level" field commanders and national leaders from neighbouring Caucasian republics.

In an appeal drafted by congress delegates to the Chechen leadership, Lebed said, "Drawing on its experience in peacemaking activities and its influence on North Caucasian society, the Peace Mission to the North Caucasus is prepared to initiate a talks process between the federal government and constructive forces within Chechen society."

The appeal concluded, "The Mission appeals to federal, regional and local bodies as well as the citizens of Russia, the leaders of Chechnya, the field commanders and influential Chechen figures living in Russia to join forces in regulating the conflict and ending this senseless war."

During the congress, two leading Chechens, Zhabrail Gakaev, head of the PMNC analytical group, and Ziyaud Isaev, of the Rosneftegazstroy stock company, appealed for concrete moves to reintegrate Chechnya into the Russian Federation, both economically and politically.

In common with other ethnic leaders, they agreed that Chechnya was "the sorrow and pain of the entire Caucasus and all of Russia" but was still a "member of a united family" and deserved a "dignified way of life".

Delegates signed a proposal to create a Confederation of Peace Missions within the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS, which will be officially founded in November.

The Confederation, chaired by General Lebed, will strive to tackle "inter-tribal problems, discrimination against citizens on ethnic grounds, social conflicts, the forced emigration of minority groups".

It will also work with international governments and non-governmental organisations to provide humanitarian aid, charity donations and peacekeeping activities.

Alexander Dzadziev is a journalist and political analyst based in Vladikavkaz

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