Moscow rejected Monday an offer by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to mediate in the Chechen conflict, describing the conflict, which began exactly two years ago, as an "internal problem."
"Russia is capable of solving its internal problems by itself," Nikolai Britvin, an aide to President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Russia's southern region, General Viktor Kazantsev, was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Kazantsev was appointed last Monday as the contact person for rebels willing to act on a televised suggestion by Putin that they discuss ways of disarming.
The offer, accompanied by a 72-hour deadline, resulted in few arms being surrendered but drew a suggestion by Chechen rebel President Aslan Maskhadov that the two sides begin talks on ending the conflict.
Shevardnadze on Sunday accepted a call by a Maskhadov aide to mediate on condition that the Russian side gave its assent.
The Georgian leader was "prepared to be a mediator in reaching a settlement to Chechnya's problems, and to make whatever contribution he can on condition that he has the consent not only of the Chechens but also that of Russia," his spokesman said.
However Britvin protested that Shevardnadze had "talked about the extremists as if they were a subject of international law, which is unacceptable for us."
And Stanislav Ilyasov, head of the pro-Russian Chechen government, referred to a long-standing Russian complaint that Chechen rebels use the territory of neighboring Georgia as a refuge.
"Those who support the extremists directly or indirectly have no right to set themselves up as mediators," he said.
The issue of Chechens stationed in Georgia has long soured relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, and analysts were skeptical from the outset at the prospects of Russia accepting Shevardnadze's mediation offer.
However the office of the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, was not immediately available for comment.
Russia sent in troops to put down a separatist insurgency in the troubled southern republic on October 1, 1999 -- MOSCOW (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)