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Britain Grants Chechen Envoy Political Asylum - 2003-11-29

After months of legal wrangling, Chechen envoy Aslan Zakayev has been granted political asylum in Britain. Mr. Zakayev, who is wanted by Russia for murder and kidnapping, has denied all the charges. A British judge earlier this month rejected Russia's extradition request.

A British Home Office official says Akhmed Zakayev's application for asylum has been successful, and that he has been granted full refugee status.

The decision has come after months of hearings in London, during which Moscow had tried to gain the extradition of the 44-year-old Chechen envoy to face 13 charges, including murder and kidnapping.

But two weeks ago here, Judge Timothy Workman concluded that Mr. Zakayev faced a substantial risk of torture, if he were to stand trial in Russia. It was this key determination that effectively swayed the Home Office to come to its decision.

Akhmed Zakayev arrived in Britain a year ago, after Moscow unsuccessfully sought his extradition from Denmark, where he was participating in a Chechen peace conference.

The Russian charges stem from the first two wars in the breakaway republic nearly a decade ago.

In more recent years, Mr. Zakayev became the chief Chechen peace negotiator and had met with Russian officials in Moscow for the last time in 2001.