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REBEL LEADER MAY ACCEPT PEACE AGREEMENT

SHARE REBEL LEADER MAY ACCEPT PEACE AGREEMENT

Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev reportedly has ordered his rebel commanders to begin implementing a military agreement with Russia aimed at ending nearly eight months of war in Chechnya.

"The document has been approved in general and accepted for execution," Dudayev's spokesman, Movladi Udugov, told the ITAR-Tass news agency Wednesday.If confirmed, Dudayev's approval would represent a breakthrough in the search for peace. Reached Sunday after lengthy negotiations, the military agreement calls for a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and is considered a prelude to a political accord.

Earlier, Russia's top negotiator in peace talks with Chechnya accused Dudayev of violating the terms of the military agreement.

Dudayev's decision to dismiss the lead Chechen negotiator, Usman Imayev, broke an agreement on the participants in the talks, ITAR-Tass quoted Russian mediator Vyacheslav Mikhailov as saying.

"Usman Imayev tended to compromise during negotiations, while Dzhokhar Dudayev fears sober-minded politicians," Mikhailov said.

Dudayev relieved Imayev of his duties Monday, accusing him of "betrayal of the interests of the people" of Chechnya, a day after Russian and Chechen negotiators reached the military agreement after lengthy talks.

Dudayev, in hiding, has not appeared publicly for months and it was unclear why he approved the agreement after firing Imayev, who had signed on his behalf.

Imayev had been accused by some Chechen field commanders and negotiators of making too many compromises. His successor will be Dudayev's education minister, Khozhakhmed Yerikhanov, Russian news reports said.

Mikhailov said new consultations would have to be held on the change in Chechnya's negotiating team. Talks on political issues were to begin Thursday in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and it was not clear if Imayev's dismissal would lead to any delay.

Chechen commander-in-chief Gen. Aslan Maskhadov was quoted by ITAR-Tass as ordering rebel fighters to halt military action as of midnight Tuesday, but fighting continued, although it was less intensive than the previous two nights. Shooting rang out in several districts in Grozny. The Interfax news agency said one Chechen militant was killed.

Many people were on the streets of the Chechen capital, road traffic has picked up and sellers were out in the markets of the devastated city, ITAR-Tass reported.