Moscow's man escapes Chechen bomb attack try to blow up satrap



Russia received a reminder yesterday that the Chechnya conflict could again descend into war when an attempt was made to blow up the Moscow-appointed head of the republic by bombing his motorcade.

Doku Zavgayev is the third Kremlin-backed official to be the target of an apparent assassination attempt within two months in Chechnya, where threats of a fresh outbreak of hostilities have escalated because of Russia's plans to hold elections there. Mr Zavgayev, appointed as Chechnya's chief executive less than a month ago, escaped with minor injuries after a remote-control bomb went off near his motorcade as it swept through Grozny. Officials said that six people were hurt.

At about the same time, a convoy carrying aides to President Yeltsin's envoy to Chechnya, Oleg Lobov, came under machine-gun fire. Mr Lobov appears to have been absent. In October he escaped unhurt when his convoy was bombed.

Russia's military commander in Chechnya, Lieutenant-General Anatoly Romanov, is still in a coma after a similar attack six weeks ago.

The violence is further evidence that a political solution to the conflict is remote. The latest sticking-point is Mr Yeltsin's order that elections should be held in Chechnya on 17 December, when Russia goes to the polls to vote for the Duma, or lower house of parliament.

Mr Yeltsin wants elections to lend legitimacy to Russia's control of the republic, where at least 30,000 died after Moscow sent in troops, tanks, and bombers to snuff out its bid for independence.

Chechen separatist leaders say Chechen voters ought only vote after the Russians withdraw, and following an agreement on Chechnya's status. They have vowed to treat Chechens who take part in the elections as traitors. Mr Yeltsin's demand for elections has been approved by the Moscow-backed Chechen government, although the timing has alarmed some Russian negotiators. Mr Lobov hinted yesterday that the elections may be postponed.

Posts up for grabs include Mr Zavgayev's job as regional chief executive, although he is so far the only contender for the job. Mr Yeltsin hopes that if Chechens vote him into office, it will bolster a power-sharing agreement Moscow wants him to sign, which falls short of granting Chechnya independence. Mr Yeltsin said yesterday he was "extremely worried by the rising wave of terrorism" in Chechnya. Fire fights, shelling, and even air raids, continue; in one three-day period this month, 16 Russian soldiers were reportedly killed.

Mr Yeltsin's concern is understandable: the war in is unpopular in Russia and any flare-up before the elections may make voters less likely to return his supporters to office.