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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Russia asks Chechen militants to surrender

MOSCOW - Russia's security chief urged Chechen militants Saturday to surrender within two weeks, saying the death of separatist warlord Shamil Basayev was an opportunity "for all those who have not yet returned to peaceful life."

The most prominent remaining rebel leader swore defiance, declaring "the war continues" in an Internet statement Saturday.

Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev indicated that authorities would show leniency to militants who handed in weapons and "switched to the side of the people" by Aug. 1.

The proposal — or ultimatum — reflected confidence among Russian authorities following the death of Basayev in a truck explosion Monday in a region adjacent to
Chechnya. Russian officials said he was killed in a special operation; rebels called it an accident.

Basayev "got his deserved punishment," Patrushev said in televised comments.

"Today, those who were deceived by him and drawn into criminal activity have a choice: to stop at the edge of the cliff or be cursed by their own people."

For those who meet the deadline, Patrushev promised "an objective and unprejudiced examination of all circumstances of your participation in illegal armed formations" — suggesting many could avoid prosecution if not suspected of grave crimes. He issued no specific threat against those who do not surrender.

"In connection with recent events, with the liquidation of militant chiefs, a chance has emerged for all those who have not yet returned to peaceful life," Patrushev said. "This chance must be used to avoid new senseless victims."

The offer appeared also to apply to militants elsewhere in the restive North Caucasus, plagued by spillover violence from 12 years of nearly constant conflict in Chechnya.

"Nobody and nothing can hamper the strengthening of stability and security in Chechnya and the North Caucasus," Patrushev said — a view opposite that of Kremlin critics who say corruption, harsh police actions and misguided policies toward Islam are fueling militant sentiment in the region.

Russian President
Vladimir Putin has refused to negotiate with Chechen rebels during more than six years in office, but authorities have lured militants with similar promises of leniency. Many in the security forces of Chechnya's Kremlin-backed government are former rebels.

A rebel-connected Web site, Kavkazcenter, dismissed Patrushev's statement as "propaganda."

Kavkazcenter and another pro-rebel site, Daymohk, posted a statement attributed to the Chechen separatists' official leader Doku Umarov in which he praised Basayev and said "10 no-less-worthy heroes will take his place."

"The war continues, and with the help of the supreme Allah, we intend to win victory," he said.

The statement was apparently posted before Patrushev's comments.

Basayev was accused of — or claimed responsibility for — deadly terror attacks on Russia during its wars in Chechnya, including the hostage-taking raid on a school in the town of Beslan in 2004.

Russian forces entered Chechnya in 1994 in a bid to crush its breakaway leadership but withdrew after a 20-month conflict that left separatists in control. Russia returned in 1999, when Putin was ascending to power, and later established a pro-Moscow government while continuing to fight rebels increasingly espousing militant Islamic ideas.
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