Chechen grief for martyr to cause of liberty deckys

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The Independent Online
Grozny - A thousand grieving Chechens gathered in a suburb of capital Grozny yesterday to mourn the dead rebel leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Weeping women attended a religious ceremony, men gathered in small groups and one speaker after another, climbing on a small podium near a house belonging to Dudayev's relatives, praised the man who led Chechnya's drive for independence.

Trees were decorated with flags of the self-proclaimed Republic of Ichkeria and with white Muslim mourning bands.

Representatives of political movements and ordinary Chechens wrote their condolences in a book laid open on a table near a portrait of Dudayev. Russian troops took no action against the mourners.

In the centre of the city, a wasteland where the former presidential palace and most neighbouring buildings have been destroyed, Russia's special police were not convinced the man they fought for 16 months was dead. "We do not believe he is dead. There is no real evidence, no real facts," said one.

Dudayev's government said the rebel leader was killed in a rocket attack from the air at Gekhi-Chu, about 20 miles south-west of Grozny, as he stood in an open field speaking by satellite telephone.

The 52-year-old leader of the rebellion against Russian rule, was buried on Wednesday at a secret location in the south of the republic.

Yesterday, an unknown number of people were killed when a Russian passenger train was derailed in Chechnya after an explosion on the track. Tass said Russian servicemen were among those killed in the blast.

Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who took over from Dudayev as rebel leader, pledged on Thursday to avenge Dudayev and said he would press on with the region's drive for independence. Speaking at a news conference in a secret location, Mr Yandarbiyev said there would be no peace talks with Moscow until it was clear who was responsible for Dudayev's death.

President Boris Yeltsin ordered troops into Chechnya in December 1994.Over 30,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have died and Mr Yeltsin needs to end the conflict to boost his chances of winning another term in the presidential elections on 16 June.

He unveiled a "peace plan" on 31 March which included a halt to Russia's military offensive, a partial withdrawal of troops and indirect talks with Dudayev. But the plan permitted "special operations against terrorists" to continue.

Russian forces shelled the town of Shali on Thursday, targeting rebel fighters but also killing and wounding civilians, according to Russia's news agencies.

Itar-Tass news agency said yesterday that the rebels had attacked a Russian military convoy in northern Chechnya, killing two servicemen, wounding seven and burning an armoured vehicle, It said one civilian was also killed and eight were wounded in the ambush.