Chechnyan peace talks in Oslo

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Neither the Norwegian nor Russian governments are formally involved, but top representatives for the ruling Chechnyan government and its exiled opposition are in Oslo for talks aimed at reconciliation. The organizer of the meetings calls them “historic.”

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that Chechnya’s two leading rival factions are negotiating a political solution for the long-troubled but oil-rich Russian republic that borders Georgia in the Caucasus. Chechnyan President Ramzan Kadyrov reportedly is being represented by the leader of Chenchnya’s national assembly Dukhvakha Abdurakhmanov, while Chechnyan opposition leader Akhmed Zakajev is in Oslo himself.

Zakajev is currently living in political asylum in Great Britain and is prime minister of Chechnya’s government in exile. His foreign minister, Osman Ferzaouli, is also in Oslo for the meetings. Russian authorities wanted the British government to extradite Zakajev in 2003, but the British refused, not least because of worries Zakajev could face torture in Russia. Several Chechnyan opposition leaders have been murdered in exile, and Zakajev has had warnings that his life also is in danger.

The talks have been arranged by Ivar Amundsen, leader of the Chechnya Peace Forum and an adviser to Zakajev. He told Aftenposten that talks have been going on “for a while.”

Amundsen said Zakajev has long sought negotiations but it was Kadyrov who took the initiative by saying that it was necessary for Zakajev to take part in a process that could unify the Chechnyan people. Kadyrov is widely viewed as currently running Chechnya on behalf of Russia, while Zakajev supports a secular policy of liberation from Russia. Amundsen called a third, militant Islamic faction in Chechnya “irrelevant” to the current talks.

“I can’t reveal what kind of positions the two sides have, but the fact that they’re meeting is itself an historic situation,” Amundsen told Aftenposten .

Amundsen said that both the Russian and Norwegian government have been “oriented” that the talks are taking place, but neither is involved in the conversations.