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Chechen separatists Sunday set a Monday deadline for signing an agreement with Russian negotiators to end the 18-month conflict in the breakaway territory.

Both sides said they had essentially agreed on a timetable to withdraw Russian troops from the region and for rebels to lay down their arms.But Chechen rebels made the military agreement conditional on solving the tricky question of when and how a local election to a Chech-en assembly should be held.

After failing to settle the thorny issue late Sunday, the Chechens set a Monday noon deadline.

"If we don't sign an agreement by noon tomorrow (2 a.m. MDT), then we will leave the negotiations," said Chechen information chief Movladi Udugov.

"In principle we have achieved agreement on the basic questions. The issue is still elections. The Russian side is trying to drag this out," he said.

Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Doku Zavgayev has called the poll for the same day as a Russian presidential election on June 16.

But the rebels as well as the Organization for Security and Conference in Europe (OSCE), which is brokering the new round of talks, say holding it then would mean an election that was neither free nor fair.

The new round of talks Sunday, which followed a meeting in May 27 between President Boris Yeltsin and rebel Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, is intended to cement a fragile cease-fire.

Yeltsin sent Russian forces into the region in December 1994 to crush a drive for independence. The decision precipitated a devastating conflict in which more than 30,000 people have been killed.

A partial military accord negotiated last July on a Russian withdrawal in exchange for rebel disarmament fell apart in October and fighting resumed.

Udugov said under the proposed new military deal Russian troops would leave Chechnya by August 30 and the region would be "demilitarized" by the same date. It was not clear whether this meant the rebels would have to hand over all their weapons.