Cease-Fire in Chechnya

The cease-fire accord between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev is good news for everybody. The senseless fighting in Chechnya, which has killed some 40,000, must stop. If both sides are serious and act in good faith, that should happen June 1.

For Mr. Yeltsin, it is good politics. If opinion polls can be believed, and in Russia that is not a given, Yeltsin appears to have overtaken his Communist opponent for the presidency and to have him on the run. The Chechen war most divides Yeltsin from the democrats whose votes he needs to win. Ending the fighting will help him both with democrats and with the population at large, which is not eager to see its sons sent into an endless guerrilla war. The move dovetails nicely with Yeltsin's recent decree ending military conscription over the next several years and creates the impression of a powerful leader able to change the course of events - an image Yeltsin needs if he is to gain reelection.

For the Chechens, the accord brings the possibility of peace to a people exhausted by war. The Russians have brutally attacked or razed village after village in efforts to wipe out the separatists. Hardly a Chechen family is unaffected. Although the Chechens are still capable of audacious attacks, they have lost several strategic villages in recent weeks.

For Europeans and Americans, a cease-fire would end an embarrassing episode in which they have felt compelled to embrace Yeltsin to keep Russia on a democratic course while looking the other way as the Russian military commits savage violations of human rights.

Cease-fires have not held in the past, but both leaders' credibility is on the line this time. Whether their militaries respect the accord remains to be seen. If so, a start could be made toward a compromise autonomy agreement for Chechnya. While the fighting has raged there, Yeltsin has signed sweeping autonomy accords with other regions, notably Tatarstan. If Chechens are willing to settle for less than complete independence, an accord should be possible. But first the fighting must stop. The world prays that it will.

If Chechens are willing to settle for less than complete independence, an accord is possible.

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