Moscow, Oct. 31 (Reuters): The Kremlin slammed the door on a peaceful answer to the decade-long Chechen conflict today, vowing to “wipe out” elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, once seen as the only rebel leader Moscow could talk to.
In Chechnya, Russian forces stepped up “special operations”, hunting rebels who could have links to last week’s 58-hour hijack of a Moscow theatre. Troops surrounded refugee camps in neighbouring Ingushetia, along Chechnya’s western border.
“We have to wipe out the movement’s figureheads: Maskhadov, (Shamil) Basayev and (Ruslan) Gelayev,” Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin Chechnya spokesman, said.
Basayev and Gelayev are two top field commanders believed to be coordinating the bulk of action against Russian troops.
The war in Chechnya, long rumbling on away from the public eye, returned to the centre stage last week after some 50 armed rebels seized a packed Moscow theatre, demanding Russia withdraw from the region. Following the theatre siege, in which at least 119 hostages and 50 rebels died when Russian troops stormed the building, Western states urged the Kremlin to talk with Chechen separatists. But echoing President Putin’s rejection of any talks with “terrorists”, Yastrzhembsky said: “Maskhadov can no longer be considered a legitimate representative of this resistance.”