War-Weary Chechens Eye Ballot Box: Many in the Russian republic doubt that a Nov. 29 parliamentary vote will bring change. Even so, the race has drawn 400 candidates. (Kim Murphy, November 5, 2005, LA Times)

The elections scheduled for Nov. 29 are the final stage of the Kremlin’s peace plan for Chechnya, a process that began with a 2003 referendum affirming the separatist republic’s permanent place in Russia and that was sealed with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s announcement that more than a decade of war was at an end.

But the continued fighting leaves some unconvinced.

“They say everything is normal. But the skirmishes continue. The bombings continue in the forests,” said Laila Khalakova, 49, another Tsa-Tsa Yurt resident, whose son-in-law disappeared when Russian troops entered the town in 2000.

“I have this opinion: Never between the Chechens and the Russians, whatever they say, whatever beautiful words they say, will there be anything but constant enmity and fury toward each other,” she said. “My 3-year-old granddaughter says, ‘I wish I had a gun; I would shoot down all those Russians who have entered our houses.’ ”

Despite the turmoil that continues to envelop this devastated republic in southern Russia, more than 400 candidates from eight parties have registered to run for a parliament that could become Chechnya’s first forum for broad civic debate since the second war with Russia began in 1999.

Since then, there have been no official means to vent popular anger over brutal and arbitrary arrests, continuing corruption in the government and the fact that 474,000 Chechens remain unemployed, far outnumbering the 154,000 who hold jobs.

“The economic situation is catastrophic. And unfortunately, many of these questions — the poverty of the population, the violations of human rights and people’s security, the healthcare situation — remain insufficiently analyzed by the executive authorities,” said Vahit Akayev, a sociology professor at Chechen State University and an independent candidate for parliament.

Already, the parliamentary election campaign is shaping up as a contest between clans and between alliances over the future leadership of the republic.

How many decades or centuries do the Russians have to keep making the same mistake before they grasp that Chechnya is going to be free?

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