Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Chechen rebel leader vows to try warlord for Beslan

AGENCIES , MOSCOW

Chechnya's rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov said yesterday that warlord Shamil Basayev would be put on trial for masterminding the hostage siege in Beslan which killed more than 330 people, once fighting has stopped in the breakaway republic.

"I responsibly announce that after the end of the war, individuals guilty of conducting illegal acts, including Shamil Basayev, will be passed to a court of law," said Aslan Maskhadov in a statement on a rebel Web site -- www.chechenpress.com -- reacting to Basayev's claim to have masterminded the raid in Beslan.

Maskhadov appeared to be suggesting he would punish Basayev under Islamic Shariah law which he introduced when he was president of a de facto independent Chechnya for more than two years in the late 1990s.

"I announce that the leadership of the Chechen Republic and the armed forces under my control ... had nothing to do with this terrorist act," Maskhadov's statement said.

"But I have to point out that such acts [as Beslan] are a consequence and response to the genocidal war waged by the Russian leadership against the Chechen people, in which the Russian army has killed 250,000 people, including 42,000 children," he said.

Despite Maskhadov's statement denying any link with the Beslan attack, Russian officials have put a US$10 million bounty on both him and Basayev and continued yesterday to assert the two had been hand-in-glove in the bloody operation.

"The organization of this criminal act against little children, teenagers and their parents in Beslan was organized by Maskhadov and Basayev in close cooperation," said army spokesman Ilya Shabalkin in a statement.

Basayev, Russia's most wanted man, admitted early this month to staging the Beslan operation and a string of other attacks including the blowing up of two passenger planes that killed 90 people. He warned Moscow his forces would strike again.

Maskhadov has condemned Basayev before and broke with him in October 2002 when the warlord organized the seizure of a Moscow theater in a raid in which 129 hostages were killed.

But the two men had seemed to be uniting their efforts this year. Maskhadov's strong condemnation yesterday could weaken the rebel forces who are now more active than they have been for years.

Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen fired grenade launchers and automatic weapons yesterday at a Russian hospital treating children injured in the Beslan seige.

No one was harmed in the night-time attack directed at the intensive care unit of the hospital in the city of Rostov-on-Don, news agencies reported.

Police said the intended target may have been a local businessman housed in the unit rather than children from Beslan being treated in a separate burns ward.

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