Estonia holds on to Dudayev legend

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Tartu - Five days after the death of the Chechen rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, Estonians in this southern town were yesterday hoping that the man they got to know - and admire - as a general in the Soviet army was still alive, writes Adrian Bridge.

"I simply do not believe that he is dead, and I do not want to believe it," said Urmas Uustal, the manager of the Barclay Hotel, which boasts a Dzhokhar Dudayev Room, marking the spot where Dudayev used to work when the hotel served as the headquarters for the Soviet bomber unit he commanded.

Dudayev will always be remembered here as the man who refused to order the 4,000 forces under his command to crush Estonia's drive for independence during his posting in Tartu between 1988 and 1991.

Estonians take pride, too, in the fact that Dudayev was inspired by the way in which the Baltic states regained their independence, and tried to copy the process in Chechnya.

"Estonia can't forget what Dudayev did," said Ants Veetousme, former mayor of Tartu. "It was largely thanks to him there was no bloodshed here."

When Chechnya declared itself independent from the Russian Federation, Estonia was one of the first countries to express its support. It was also one of the first to condemn the brutal way in which Russia sought to crush the rebellion.