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Russian Envoy  Hopeful  About Chechnya's Future - 2003-02-20

Russian President Vladimir Putin's special representative on human rights in the Chechen Republic was in New York Wednesday to discuss the rebuilding of Chechnya after many years of war.

On March 23, Chechnya will hold a referendum on its constitution. Thereafter, the republic will elect a president and parliament, while remaining a constitutional part of Russia.

Special envoy Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, himself a Chechen, said the referendum is a defining moment in Chechen history.

"We did not have this freedom under the czarist times during the policies of colonialism towards Chechnya, or during the Soviet times, when this right was denied to Russians and Chechens alike, and not under the times of terrorist regimes of [Dzhokhar] Dudayev and [Aslan] Maskhadov," he said. "For the first time, people are getting their right to express their political will."

Russia waged two brutal wars against Chechnya in the last decade. International human rights organizations have accused Moscow of committing numerous war crimes during both military campaigns. Mr. Sultygov said "destructive separatist elements," specifically the regimes of Dzhokhar Dudayev and Aslan Maskhadov, took over Chechnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early '90s. Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed in April of 1996 during Russia's first war with Chechnya. Moscow says Aslan Maskhadov is the mastermind behind the deadly hostage-taking in a Moscow theater last October.

Mr. Sultygov said Russia has "extensive documentary evidence" to show the Chechen rebels are part of the international terrorist network linked to al-Qaida.

"I think bin Laden belongs in an electric chair, and Maskhadov, I guess, with the Russian system of justice," he added.

Mr. Sultygov cautioned, however, that the rules of international law must not be violated in eradicating international terrorism. The spread of democracy, he said, is the only effective means of eliminating terrorists and their ideology from the planet.