Chechen Rebels Claim Mayor’s Death
SLEPTSOVSKAYA, Russia (AP) _ Rebel fighters dragged a small-town Chechen mayor from his car and shot him to death as part of a campaign to terrorize Chechens who cooperate with Russian forces, federal officials said Wednesday.
The attack came during a week when Chechen militants allegedly tried to throw explosives at a pro-Moscow Muslim leader and rebel warlords have reportedly threatened violence against Chechen leaders who negotiate with Moscow.
The attacks suggest Chechens are far from reconciled to Russian rule even as wide-scale rebel resistance has declined, replaced by ambushes and sneak attacks.
Alman Mesiyev was mayor of the town of Khattuni in the southern Vedeno region, where steep slopes and valleys covered in thick forests provide easy cover for guerrilla units. Mesiyev had worked with federal troops to root out the rebel groups.
Rebel fighters pulled Mesiyev from his car and shot him at close range on Saturday, according to a statement from Russia’s military headquarters in the Caucasus.
Meanwhile, rebels killed three traffic police officers in a northern area that federal forces had claimed to control, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. The officers were driving home from the town of Shelkovskaya, 35 miles east of the capital Grozny, when attackers opened fire with automatic weapons Tuesday night.
Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo admitted Wednesday that Chechnya remains a patchwork where federal control is weak in some districts.
``We have no illusions, even though it is more or less stable in a number of regions. In some regions grave crimes are being committed, such as attacks on policemen,″ Rushailo said.
A prominent pro-Moscow Chechen Muslim leader, Mufti Akhmad Alidkhadzhi Kadyrov, said his guards detained two Chechens carrying explosives who were trying to kill him on Monday. Kadyrov was dismissed as Chechnya’s top mufti last year after he met with Russia’s then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Chechnya’s rebel leaders called the meeting a betrayal.
Moscow has said it is working with Chechen groups, including President Aslan Maskhadov, to find a political solution to the 8-month-old war.
According to Russian news reports, Maskhadov has been threatened by other rebel commanders for proposing a peace deal with Moscow. Maskhadov’s wife and daughter have left Chechnya.
In a conciliatory move, Russia announced the release of 30 rebels in the village of Znamenskoe on Wednesday. The release brings to 135 the rebels set free under a parliamentary amnesty for Chechen fighters found not to have committed grave crimes.
Russian attack jets flew 11 sorties in the last 24 hours, targeting trails used by rebels in the south, officials said Wednesday. Helicopters flew 30 missions, providing air support to ground troops.
Russian forces swept into Chechnya in September, quickly taking control of the republic’s northern two-thirds. But progress has stalled in the southern mountains, where the terrain favors the rebels’ hit-and-run tactics.