A Tentative Withdrawal

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MOSCOW: Russia announced it would begin withdrawing troops from Chechnya, but cautioned that they would return "if the situation deteriorates." Troops Monday began redeploying across the boarder in neighboring Dagestan, the first stage of a three-part withdrawal that is expected to last until at least October. TIME's Andrew Keith says that the withdrawal is largely a cosmetic move, since the soldiers can quickly be sent back into Chechnya if peace negotiations break down. "There is still fighting all over Chechnya despite the cease fire. Among Chechens, there isn't a whole lot of faith in the cease-fire, or in the Russian army's goodwill." Even as the withdrawal was announced, fighting continued in Chechnya. A spokesmen for the Russian military say its soldiers are only returning fire when attacked, but witnesses say the Russian army continues to conduct offensives against Chechen villages. Despite rolling out a peace proposal last month, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has so far been unable to bring Chechen leader Jokar Dudayev to negotiate. Dudayev has repeatedly said he will not negotiate until Russian troops leave the republic, and has also demanded direct negotiations with Yeltsin, complete independence for Chechnya, and the dismissal of some of Yeltsin's cabinet. A meeting between Dudayev and negotiator and President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiyev is tentatively scheduled for sometime between April 20th and 25th.