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Financial Times (UK)
May 19, 2003
Plan for greater Chechen autonomy
By Andrew Jack and Stefan Wagstyl in Moscow

A draft treaty granting greater autonomy to Chechnya should be ready within months, according to the top Kremlin spokesman on Russia's conflict-torn republic.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Vladimir Putin, president, last week asked a group of 50 people headed by Alexander Voloshin, the Kremlin chief of staff, to draw up recommendations by October 1. The treaty would likely be ratified next year, following regional presidential then parliamentary elections.

The move represents an effort to hand greater freedom to Chechnya than exists in other Russian republics. A referendum in March this year endorsed a new constitution stressing that Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian federation.

The move has raised criticism from some Russian politicians, including Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration and a frontrunner in coming regional presidential elections. He argues that Chechnya only suffered when it had quasi-independence during the 1990s.

Others involved in the treaty discussions will include former members of the parliament of the separatist Chechen administration of Aslan Maskhadov.

Mr Yastrzhembsky said about 10 of these former parliamentarians had been involved in talks about a draft amnesty for Chechen rebel fighters. Mr Putin introduced the draft to the Russian parliament for discussion last week in spite of two new suicide attacks in the republic, which killed at least 77 people.

The amnesty would waive criminal charges against rebel activities during the past decade, but exclude foreign fighters, and crimes such as kidnapping and murder. It could also lead to amnesties for Russian military personnel implicated in crimes carrying sentences of less than five years.

Mr Yastrzhembsky said he believed last week's attacks may have been a "yellow card" sent by more hardline rebel fighters to warn against holding discussions with Russia about an end to the conflict, which began in 1999.

He said foreign fighters were still present in Chechnya, but there had been reduced funding from abroad since the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11 2001 in the US.

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