West not fooled by Russia- Chechen leader
mstainsby at tao.ca
Fri Feb 15 21:28:46 MST 2002
INTERVIEW-West not fooled by Russia- Chechen leader
By Peter Graff
MOSCOW, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Moscow has failed to convince the West the war
in Chechnya is part of a global fight against terrorism, despite
increasingly noisy rhetoric since September 11, the region's elected rebel
In written responses to questions submitted this week by Reuters, Aslan
Maskhadov repeated an unconditional offer for talks, and said either side
could phone the other at any time.
But the man who negotiated the end of a 1994-96 first Chechen war said the
Kremlin was now stalling on talks and hiding "colonial" aims behind slogans
of a fight against terror.
"It is clear you can mount an 'anti-terrorist operation' only against
terrorists. So the entire Chechen people must be terrorists, and in the
most horrible form -- Islamic ones.
"I can assure you, if tomorrow the West were to develop problems with
Martians, then Martians would suddenly be found in Chechnya, and at least
60 Chechens on Mars," he wrote.
Maskhadov did not rule out that some of the foreign militants who have
fought alongside Chechen fighters may have had ties to terrorists. But he
said the total number of foreign fighters in Chechnya was only several dozen.
His lengthy responses ranged from often caustic satire of Russian
positions, to a detailed legalistic defence of Chechnya's 1990 declaration
of independence and a scathing indictment of military tactics he said
"Repression is limited only by their physical capabilities, and they have
planes, helicopters, multiple rocket launchers and tens of thousands of
trained killers, whipped up with cries of 'Kill, kill, kill!' and 'A good
Chechen is a dead Chechen!"'
WEST ADJUSTING STANCE
The West generally accepts Moscow's argument -- made ever more loudly since
last September's attacks on the United States -- that some Chechen rebels
have had ties to international Islamic militants including Osama bin
Laden's al Qaeda network.
But just how deep those ties go, and whether they extend to Maskhadov's
mainstream pro-independence Chechen leadership, have become troubling
questions as the West tries to adjust its stance in the wake of September 11.
Maskhadov said Moscow's effort to equate Chechnya with terrorism had failed.
"The meetings of my representatives with officials in the United States and
several European countries allow me to conclude that since September 11,
the West has not come to better sympathise with Russian claims, but to
better understand just what the Russians are doing in the Chechen Republic.
"Despite the persistent requests of Russia, neither Chechnya as a whole,
nor any individual Chechen, has been found in the list of terrorists
distributed by the United States," he wrote.
Recent reporting from Afghanistan suggests the Chechen presence among al
Qaeda fighters there may be limited.
An international humanitarian official in Kabul with extensive knowledge of
the more than 3,000 Taliban and al Qaeda detainees held by U.S. and
anti-Taliban Afghan forces told Reuters on Thursday he had yet to come
across a single Chechen.
Anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan often called their foreign enemies
"Arabs and Chechens," but by "Chechens" they may have been including Uzbek
and Tajik militants from other, nearer parts of the ex-Soviet Union, based
in Afghanistan's north.
The Bush administration clearly softened its criticism of Russia's
behaviour in Chechnya in the immediate aftermath of the September attacks.
But the effects have begun to wear off.
Washington praised President Vladimir Putin for launching peace talks at
the end of September. But Russia abandoned the talks after a single meeting
with a Maskhadov envoy in November.
Last month, after Russia resumed its policy of "sweeps," sealing off
villages and rounding up young men, the U.S. State Department denounced "a
continuation of human rights violations and the use of overwhelming force
against civilian targets."
A U.S. official told Reuters this week: "We have always said that elements
within Chechnya have links with international terrorism. Al Qaeda has done
training in Chechnya. We have consistently called on the Chechens to take
steps to dissociate themselves from international terrorism groups."
But he said Washington did not see Maskhadov as a terrorist, and that
Moscow should distinguish terrorists from politicians.
"We have repeatedly expressed our belief that a political settlement is the
only means of bringing a lasting peace to the region and denying terrorists
a theater of operations."
A former Soviet artillery colonel, Maskhadov commanded rebel forces during
the first Chechen war, but became Russia's main partner at peace talks. He
negotiated a Russian withdrawal, signed a peace deal with president Boris
Yeltsin and was elected president in 1997 with Moscow's blessing.
But in the years that followed, Chechnya became increasingly lawless and
Moscow said Maskhadov had lost control. Hundreds of Russians were kidnapped
and held by Chechen gangs for ransom.
In 1999 a Chechen guerrilla leader and his Arab-born deputy attacked a
neighbouring Russian region, and within weeks several apartment blocks in
Russian cities were blown up in the night.
Russian troops poured back into Chechnya in a "counter-terrorist operation"
and refused talks with Maskhadov's envoys for more than two years, until
the single meeting last November.
Maskhadov has repeatedly accused Russia of staging the 1999 apartment
bombings to justify a new war in Chechnya, which Moscow denies. In the
interview he said Russia had intentionally fuelled Chechen radicalism and
"When our republic's independence is recognised by the world, I can
guarantee that Russia will no longer have its need for Chechen kidnappers
and radicals seeking to spread their ideology to other parts of the
Caucasus," he wrote.
"I believe the war will be stopped...when the strong of the world decide
they no longer need anything from Russia."
In the contradiction lies the hope.
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