July 19, 2006

Chechen rebels answer Russian amnesty with threats

By Oliver Bullough

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The leader of the Chechen rebels
dismissed a Russian amnesty offer on Wednesday, saying attacks
outside his home region would be his rebels' answer to Moscow.

Last week, following the death of Chechen warlord Shamil
Basayev, Russia offered Chechens still resisting its rule a
fair trial if they surrendered by the end of the month.

Basayev, who masterminded the 2004 Beslan school siege in
which 186 children perished, died last week in what the rebels
say was a fatal accident but Russia said was a targeted raid.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's FSB security service,
said parliament would be summoned from its summer break to
approve giving rebels "a chance to return to peaceful life."

But the response from Doku Umarov, head of a rebel movement
which has united with Islamist rebels to stage attacks all
across the North Caucasus, was swift and contemptuous.

"All Moscow's announcements about the 'end of the war' or
this so-called 'amnesty' ... are yet more attempts by the
Kremlin regime to hide the real situation behind lies," said a
statement on a rebel Web site (www.kavkazcenter.com).

"The armed forces of the Chechen Republic are organised and
motivated like never before. By presidential decree, two new
fronts have been formed. That is the answer of the Chechen
leadership and the Caucasus mujahideen to appeals to 'lay down
our arms' and be 'amnestied'."

The number of Chechen rebels, who defeated Russia in 1996
to win de facto independence but who have been on the run since
Moscow sent its troops back into the region three years later,
still resisting Russian rule is not clear.

Russia says Umarov's guerrillas are reduced to a few
scattered groups, and are finished as a fighting force.

Despite that, the rebels stage regular hit and run attacks,
which frequently kill police and troops.

Two policemen were killed in broad daylight in Grozny on
Tuesday in an attack blatant even by Chechen standards.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow warlord who runs the Chechen
government on the Kremlin's behalf, said on Tuesday 13 of
Umarov's rebels had contacted him about surrendering.

But Russian media were sceptical about the amnesty.
Kommersant daily listed six previous amnesties that Russia has
offered Chechnya since the war started there in 1994. Under the
most recent, in 2003, a mere 171 rebels surrendered, it said.