Russia loses patience with Chechen rebels

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MOSCOW - The Kremlin, its patience finally snapped by last week's bloody hijacking - the fourth in the region in eight months - is turning up the heat on the self- proclaimed Chechen republic in the north Caucasus and openly going out of its way to promote a rival leadership.

Government-controlled news media gave wide publicity at the weekend to an angry official statement describing Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev's rule as illegitimate and threatening to send in Russian troops to protect the people.

Umar Avturkhanov, a leading foe of Mr Dudayev, was given prime television time on Saturday to demand recognition for the opposition Temporary Council as the rightful rulers of the Chechen republic.

A senior aide to President Boris Yeltsin, Sergei Filatov, accused Mr Dudayev's administration on Saturday of beheading its opponents and putting the severed heads on public display.

He gave no details, but the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda said on Saturday that Chechen security men had beheaded three members of an opposition group and displayed their heads in the central square of the capital Grozny. It gave no date.

The Chechen interior ministry said the situation was calm in the region, which declared independence from Russia in 1991, so far without gaining any international recognition. Mr Dudayev's press service issued a statement describing the Russian government's broadside as a 'link in the chain of a propaganda campaign against Chechnya', Tass reported.

This was aimed, the statement said, at creating conditions for 'resolving the so-called Chechen question by force'.

Mr Avturkhanov denied, however, that the Temporary Council was asking for Russian armed intervention. 'Not one of us is about to ask Russia to bring in troops to restore order. We don't want it and Russia does not want it,' he said.