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April 1, 2003
Duma suggests amnesty for both sides in Chechnya
By Yelena Vrantseva, Artyom Vernidoub

At least two draft bills offering amnesty for Chechen rebels are to be submitted to the lower house soon. Observers do not rule out that an amnesty may be offered both to the Chechens who lay down their arms voluntarily, and to Russian troops who committed crimes against civilians, in particular Colonel Yuri Budanov, who faces charges of murdering a young Chechen woman.

Gazeta.Ru has learnt that certain deputies intend to insist that the amnesty act apply to both sides of the Chechen conflict. At the same time, no amnesty will be granted to the notorious warlord Shamil Basayev, who is believed to be a mastermind of the terror attack on a Moscow theatre in October last year, and who claimed responsibility for the destruction of the pro-Moscow government HQ in Grozny last December.

The federal authorities first raised the idea of amnesty for members of rebel units in the run-up to the constitutional referendum, held in Chechnya on March 23. Vladimir Putin mentioned it twice, before and after the vote. The second time he suggested a possible pardon for some separatists in more concrete terms. Meeting the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration Akhmad Kadyrov in the Kremlin last week, Putin said: ''It is time to work towards an amnesty in Chechnya''.

Upon leaving the Kremlin, Kadyrov said that in his opinion all ethnic Chechens serving sentences of less than 5 years must be released from prison. That statement gave cause to believe that Kadyrovs office has been working on its own variant of an amnesty act.

Presently, there are three draft amnesty acts in the making. The work on the first two drafts began in the State Dumas committee for legislation and in the Kremlins legal directorate even before the referendum. Which of those variants the State Duma will, in the long run, adopt is hard to foretell.

Either way, in the near future at least two drafts entitled On declaring amnesty in connection with adoption of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic and On amnesty procedure are to be submitted to the lower house.

''For the most part, those drafts were devised in the Kremlin,'' a spokesman for the State Dumas legislation committee Alexander Urmanov admitted to Gazeta.Ru, adding that the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry took part in the work.

Generally, by Russian law, an amnesty can be proposed by any person or authority endowed with the right of legislative initiative, including State Duma deputies, senators, the President, the government, regional legislatures. An amnesty order is usually adopted in the form of a draft bill, which may be amended after receiving a tentative approval in the first reading. The order comes into effect either immediately, or after it is published in the governmental Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

Duma officials assume that the amnesty act may be adopted as early as April. According to other reports, the amnesty may be put off until autumn, when the presidential campaign begins in Chechnya. The authorities may want to hold the presidential election in the republic at the same time as the parliamentary elections to the State Duma. Declaring an amnesty may prove the best argument in favour of the candidate who will have the Kremlins support. Despite the numerous other individuals being suggested, so far there is only one such candidate, Akhmad Kadyrov.

Gazeta.Ru has learnt that the amnesty will be offered to three categories of citizens: firstly, to those already convicted and serving their sentence; secondly, to those whose case is in the process of investigation, and finally to rebels who voluntarily lay down their weapons.

At this, the latter category will undergo checks aimed to establish their possible involvement in grave crimes, since the amnesty will apply only to those who have committed crimes, punishable by less than 5 years in prison.

The head of the Duma committee for legislation Pavel Krasheninnikov did not specify whose draft amnesty act he prefers. Pointing to the fact that work on both variants has not yet been completed, Krasheninnikov refused to go into details. In an interview with Gazeta.Ru, the chairman of the legislation committee emphasized that since the draft would require approval from his committee, ''it will not be applicable to persons who took part in masterminding and perpetrating terrorist acts in Moscow and other cities. And those persons who have not committed grave crimes must be given a chance, so that they can return to a peaceful life''.

In the meantime, the Russian human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov believes that amnesty should be granted not only to Chechen guerrillas but also to servicemen who committed misdemeanours against civilians. The same opinion is shared by one of the authors of two previous amnesty acts, member of the Duma security committee Viktor Ilyukhin.

''The amnesty act must apply to both sides of the conflict, both to the Chechens and to our military, including Colonel Yuri Budanov (the situation with Budanov is an act of legislative harassment of a person). There is no need to be shy, when it concerns peace,'' Ilyukhin told Gazeta.Ru. ''As regards to the expediency of the amnesty, if at least 10 assault rifles are laid down, that means the lives of some have already been spared.''

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