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INTERVIEW - No talks, no compromise -- pro-Moscow Chechen head
By Oliver Bullough

MOSCOW, June 19 (Reuters) - The top official in Russia's war-torn Chechnya on Thursday dismissed a rebel proposal for talks, and insisted a Kremlin peace plan was on track despite a string of suicide bombings, one of which nearly killed him.

Akhmad Kadyrov said separatists, who ruled an effectively independent Chechnya between 1996 and 1999, would not upset Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans.

"There is no war, these are just bandits, who we are fighting against," he told Reuters in an interview.

The stocky and lightly-bearded Kadyrov was Chechen mufti, the top religious official in the majority Muslim region, between 1995 and his appointment as administration head after Russian troops poured back in 1999.

Chechnya was devastated by three years of war before winning its de facto independence. More than three years into Russia's second military campaign, separatists, servicemen and civilians are killed almost daily despite Russian attempts to portray the region as returning to normal.

More than 90 people have been killed in three suicide bombings over the last six weeks, one of which came within metres (yards) of killing Kadyrov. Rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov called for his execution after he started working with Moscow.

Russian officials say they have stopped counting the number of attempts on his life, and he was surrounded by bodyguards at the city centre hotel where he gave the interview.

A rebel envoy said on Tuesday that Maskhadov would be prepared to hold peace talks if Moscow asked for them, but Kadyrov said the only negotiations could be for his surrender.

"There can be talks with Maskhadov, with only one purpose -- that he leaves the republic," Kadyrov said. "If he wants to do something for his people, he should sacrifice himself too."


A key part of the Moscow-backed peace plan is an amnesty for rebels. The Chechen government says some 70 fighters have responded to the offer, although rights groups say it covers more Russian soldiers accused of abuses than Chechens.

Kadyrov, expected to stand in October elections for regional president under the terms of a new constitution, said amnestied fighters would return to their peace-time jobs.

"They will work according to their profession, if they have one. If they don't have a profession, we will teach them, and after rehabilitation they will become normal Russian citizens."

He said the government's budget in the region had tripled since 2000, that production of oil, the key Chechen export, was increasing and that there was no reason why investment should not flow in to rebuild the shattered region.

"If someone says there is war and that they cannot work there, it is not true. Cafes have started to work, and little restaurants and services."

He said that Maskhadov was no longer relevant as he had failed to take advantage of independence -- which Kadyrov supported -- and had done nothing to rebuild the region.

"In 1996, Chechnya was effectively an independent republic," he said. "They gave us everything that is Chechnya, (saying) do with it what you will, but we did not use it properly."

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