Tragedies like Beslan killings 'inevitable'

Posted in Other | 15-Sep-04 | Author: Jonathan Steele and Carolynne | Source: Guardian

Chechen rebel leaders Shamil Basayev (L) and Aslan Maskhadov.
West has helped fuel extremism in the Caucasus, claims Chechen

More atrocities like the Beslan school seizure are "inevitable" unless President Vladimir Putin changes his policy towards Chechnya, the European representative of the republic's last freely-elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, warned yesterday.

Akhmed Zakayev, who has political asylum in Britain, accused western governments of sharing responsibility for terrorism because of their silence about Russia's human rights violations in Chechnya.

"Your silence has given Putin carte blanche in his attempts to solve the Chechen conflict by force," he said. "Double standards by the west, which does not seem to hesitate to issue condemnations or intervene in other parts of the world suffering similar or less extreme forms of state-sponsored violence, are pushing many peaceful Chechens into carrying out extremist acts."

The Russian military had killed more than 200,000 people in Chechnya, including 35,000 children, he claimed at a London press conference.

Mr Zakayev said international terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism played only a minor role in Chechnya, but the "Chechen tragedy is being hijacked" by extremists, partly as a result of the west's reluctance to press for a political solution.

He called for international mediation and talks between the Russian government and Mr Maskhadov's representatives. Mr Maskhadov hoped to bring all Chechen political parties to the table, Mr Zakayev said. But he rejected suggestions that the warlord Shamil Basayev, who has claimed responsibility for several terrorist acts, should be included in the talks.

Mr Zakayev said his side had condemned the Beslan school seizure from the first moment. In his view the hostage-takers "were not linked to any political forces in the North Caucasus", but were probably local radicals motivated by revenge for loved ones who had been killed by Russian troops.

He said they might also be Ingush who had lost land or had relatives massacred in 1992, when North Ossetians drove them from their homes in one of the first post-Soviet wars. This would explain why several Ingush were reported among the gunmen.

Mr Zakayev ridiculed official Russian claims that Chechens were among the hostage-takers, saying the ones named were people who had been in prison in Russia for years.

Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch from the Boris Yeltsin era who is also in exile in Britain, backed the call for talks with Mr Maskhadov. "The precondition for peace is that Putin declares his readiness to stop the war," he said.

As deputy secretary of Russia's security council under the then president Yeltsin, Mr Berezovsky helped to bring about the peace talks which ended the first Chechen war in 1997. He acknowledged that Mr Maskhadov no longer had full control over Chechnya's fighters, but said: "If Putin says he's willing to have talks, Maskhadov will regain it."

Mr Putin's plan, announced on Monday, to tighten central power in Russia by abolishing elections for regional governors and appointing them instead, was disastrous. "The complete opposite is needed. He should make Russia a confederation with flexibility and maximum opportunity for autonomy within it," he said.

The Russian government yesterday announced that it would pour 157bn roubles (£3bn) into the security and law enforcement services next year. "We need new means for fighting terrorism, including legislative ones," the finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, said, according to the Interfax news agency. He also announced that 1.4bn roubles would be spent on improving security on Moscow's metro and other public places next year.

The decision came days after Mr Putin criticised the security forces for failing to prevent attacks in the unstable southern regions as well as Moscow.

At least 32 militants are believed to have travelled easily through checkpoints set up on the regional borders between the Russian republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia before the hostage-taking at Beslan, which saw 330 people killed, as well as 31 hostage-takers.

The FSB, successor to the KGB, was also embarrassed by its worst-ever losses in the siege - at least 11 members of its elite Vympel and Alpha squads were killed.

Russia's prosecutor general, Vladimir Ustinov, yesterday said nine charges including terrorism had been laid against the sole militant held after the siege, a Chechen-born man, Nurpasha Kulayev.