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Chechnya's Elected Leader Condemns Hostage-Taking - 2002-10-28

The elected leader of Chechnya has condemned last week's hostage taking in Moscow by Chechen guerrillas, which left more than 100 people dead.

In an interview with the AFP News Agency from his secret headquarters in Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov condemned the theater attack. But he said more such attacks are inevitable unless Russia agrees to negotiate Chechen demands. Mr. Maskhadov denied any connection to the hostage-takers, but said there will be more hostages and death of innocents unless a political solution is found.

Meanwhile, at the Chechen congress in Copenhagen, Chechen officials reiterated the separatists willingness to hold unconditional talks with the Russian government to find a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya.

Spokesman Ahmed Zakayev called for international mediation to settle the long-running conflict in the small, mostly Muslim republic in southern Russia.

The Kremlin has previously rejected talks and outside mediation, and has labeled the rebels terrorists.

The presence of the Chechens in Denmark has angered the Russian government. At Russia's insistence, a Russia/European Union summit scheduled for Copenhagen next month has been moved to Brussels.

In announcing the change of venue, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller brushed aside Russia's accusation that allowing the Chechen meeting to go ahead was a sign of moral support for the Moscow hostage takers. Mr. Moeller said he had explained to Russian officials that refusing to allow the Chechen group to meet would have violated Denmark's constitutional right of free speech and assembly. At the same time, he said he expects the Chechen conference to take a stand against terrorism.

The Chechen Congress is partially sponsored by the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Among those registered to attend were representatives of the lower house of Russia's parliament, the 44 nation Council of Europe, as well as international human rights groups and members of the Chechen diaspora.