Maskhadov's death will be avenged, warn Chechens

Click to follow

Grief-stricken Chechen separatist rebels declared their dead leader Aslan Maskhadov a martyr to Allah and vowed to take their armed struggle with Moscow to bloody new heights. The last hopes of a peaceful settlement to the conflict had died, they said yesterday, along with Maskhadov, whose demise in murky circumstances was announced on Tuesday.

Grief-stricken Chechen separatist rebels declared their dead leader Aslan Maskhadov a martyr to Allah and vowed to take their armed struggle with Moscow to bloody new heights. The last hopes of a peaceful settlement to the conflict had died, they said yesterday, along with Maskhadov, whose demise in murky circumstances was announced on Tuesday.

"Aslan Maskhadov was the only person who believed there was still something to talk about with Moscow," wrote Movladi Udugov, one of the rebels' senior ideologues, on their website. "Now there is no such a person in Chechnya. A new period in the history of Russian-Chechen military confrontation has started."

The rebels said Maskhadov had died a hero's death in an "unequal" stand-off and that his soul would ascend to paradise. In a separate statement, the rebel Chechen parliament called on European institutions to condemn his death as a war crime and bring those who killed him to international justice.

The military wing of the rebel leadership called on field commanders across the tiny republic to stick to the agreed plan for the "spring/summer military campaign". Umar Khanbiev, a Chechen rebel spokesman, wrote: "Personalities come and go but the battle carries on and will continue until Judgement Day. In the place of the Shaheed [Martyr] Aslan Maskhadov will come another leader who will honourably take up the bloodstained banner of Chechen resistance." A special operation that would bring "final victory" would be executed, he added.

Another statement called for the independence of the entire north Caucasus from Russia. The rebels' defiant response came as Maskhadov's body was formally identified by his relatives and a three-day mourning period in Chechnya announced.

The rebels said they would appoint a successor "in the next day or two". Analysts said the two most obvious candidates were Shamil Basayev, the warlord who claimed responsibility for the Beslan school siege, or the equally radical Dokar Umarov. Both have pledged never to negotiate with Moscow, which first sent troops into Chechnya in 1994 under Boris Yeltsin.

The circumstances surrounding Maskhadov's death grew murkier with three versions circulating. An unnamed source said to be in the entourage of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-backed vice-prime minister, told the ingushetiya.ru website that Maskhadov had been killed on Sunday, two days before his official death, by Mr Kadyrov.

The source said a neighbour had revealed Maskhadov's hiding place in a bunker beneath a house "for an enormous sum of money", and Mr Kadyrov and his fighters killed Maskhadov in a brief gun-battle. Mr Kadyrov had decided not to take responsibility for it, the source claimed, because he knew it would bring "eternal shame on him among the Chechen people", so he asked Russian federal forces to claim to have caught the rebel president.

Such a version contradicts Mr Kadyrov's account which is that Maskhadov was killed during a special operation on Tuesday after one of his own body- guards accidentally shot him in the confusion. That, in turn, contradicts a version from the Russian army, which is that Maskhadov died in a grenade blast caused by special forces trying to penetrate the bunker.

But the body shown on Russian TV displayed no signs of grenade or shrapnel injuries, although the left cheek did appear to be marked by a bullet wound. The daily Kommersant newspaper added a new dimension to the story yesterday, saying the Russians had actually tried to persuade Maskhadov to give himself up for an hour but he had refused.

Akhmed Zakayev, Maskh-adov's spokesman in London, said he was sure he had died on Tuesday because he had been in communication with him since Sunday and it was pure chance that his hiding place had been found.

He also dismissed any suggestion that Mr Kadyrov had been responsible, insisting he was not present at the time. Mr Kadyrov, who yesterday said he was sorry he had not killed Maskhadov himself, has often talked about doing just that.

His own father, Akhmad Kadyrov, was the Moscow-backed president of Chechnya until last year when he was blown up in an attack that Ramzan blamed on the rebels.

Mr Zakayev said that Maskhadov's death would only see the Chechen conflict get worse. "It's a very serious loss but it is not a death blow. The war will continue for as long as Putin is Russia's leader."

Comments