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Chechen Leader Appeals for Negotiations with Russia - 2004-09-14

A senior Chechen envoy is calling for the international community to pressure Russia into negotiations with Chechnya, saying more tragedies like the Beslan school siege could result if the Caucasus region continues to radicalize. Akhmed Zakayev spoke at a news conference in London, where he lives in exile.

Mr. Zakayev called the news conference to reject Russian charges that Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov was involved in the hostage-taking at the Beslan school, which resulted in more than 330 deaths.

Mr. Zakayev, who is a senior aide to Mr. Maskhadov, denounced the Beslan attack and blamed it on what he called a radical local group.

He said similar attacks could spread from the Caucasus if the West does not put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to open negotiations with Chechen leaders. He spoke through an interpreter.

"Unless some third-party intervenes, and intervenes decisively, neither Chechnya nor Russia nor the two together are capable of breaking out of that vicious circle of violence," he said.

Mr. Zakayev says the West has largely remained silent about Russian tactics in Chechnya, preferring to view it as part of the global war on terrorism.

"The West gave Putin carte blanche to do whatever he considered right and necessary, probably in the hope that Putin would succeed if he wanted to use force in re-establishing stability in Chechnya and in the Caucasus in Russia," he added.

But Mr. Zakayev says force alone cannot bring about stability if the terrorists' political grievances are ignored.

"If we really want to combat international terrorism and extremism, then we are obliged to deprive the terrorists, whichever country they come from, of the political motivations behind their acts of terrorism," he said.

Russia says Mr. Zakayev is a senior Chechen military commander and he has been charged with murder and kidnapping in Russia. Britain granted him political asylum last year after a London court ruled he would suffer torture if returned to Russia.

Actress Vanessa Redgrave, one of Mr. Zakayev's British sponsors, says authorities have been consulted about his security, since following the Beslan tragedy Russian officials vowed to take pre-emptive action outside Russia against suspected terrorists.