Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov has unexpectedly joined in the presidential election campaign in Russia's war-weary southern province. In a statement posted on a Chechen rebel website the president of the self-styled Republic of Ichkeria called on the western community, international organizations and human rights groups to back his plan of introducing an international administration in Chechnya.
However, observers believe that the main point of Maskhadov's initiative is not a settlement plan but simply an attempt to remind the Moscow-appointed Chechen chief Akhmad Kadyrov of who the West still considers the legitimate leader of Chechnya.
In a statement published on www.chechenpress.com, operated by his aide Akhmed Zakayev in London, Aslan Maskhadov once again called for an independent Chechnya. ''The bitter and tragic experience of numerous attempts over the past 200 years to stop the genocide of the Chechen people by means of "wider autonomy" and "sovereignty within Russia", which were backed every time by "absolute guarantees and promises", shows that the problem of the physical security of the Chechen people can in no way be resolved within the framework of the Russian Constitution,'' the rebel leader says in his statement.
''Every such attempt in the past resulted in tragedy and genocide for the Chechen people. The same is happening today but on a wider scale and in brutal forms,'' Maskhadov concludes.
The Chechen rebel leader calls on the world community to pay attention to events in Chechnya and suggests that an international administration be introduced in the republic. What he offers is the plan of ''conditional independence via an international administration,'' evidently alluding to the past experience of the legalization of separatists regions, such as East Timor, which won independence from Indonesia, or Kosovo, currently under the temporary jurisdiction of NATO and the United Nations.
In his address, Maskhadov seeks to dispel ''fears instilled by Russian propaganda into part of the European political community that an independent Chechnya will be a source of Islamic extremism posing a threat to European countries'' and pledges that his proposal guarantees ''a steady democratic development in a post-war Chechnya''.
That there will be any ''appropriate reaction'' from the UN is doubtful, but his address may affect Kadyrov, who is considered the leading hopeful at the forthcoming presidential election in Chechnya.
The problem is that so far it remains unclear how Western states will treat the presidential election in Chechnya, given that many of them still consider Maskhadov the legitimate president of Chechnya. The first alarm bells sounded on the eve of the Chechen constitutional referendum when the PACE representative for Chechnya, Lord Frank Judd, resigned from his post in protest at the vote.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov is wary of dangers coming from the other direction as well. He fears, and not without reason, that rebels may attempt to disrupt the October poll with a series of terror attacks.
At the Friday government session in Grozny he instructed republican law enforcers to work out a plan of action for ensuring safety during the election campaign. ''Each candidate will bring numerous politicians here, public figures, variety performers, and each of them must feel completely safe while on the territory of Chechnya,'' Interfax quoted him as saying.
In the meantime, the presidential human rights envoy for Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov on Tuesday accused non-governmental organizations and human rights groups active in Chechnya of links with terrorism. Sultygov suggested checking the sources of financing for non-governmental human rights organizations to probe their possible involvement with the international terrorist network.
''Chechnya clearly demonstrates that terrorist activities go hand in hand with the psychological war, propaganda and moral terror conducted by human rights NGOs. There is a need to investigate the sources financing these organizations, including those with international status, for their potential ties to the international terrorist network,'' Sultygov said in a statement.
The official noted that even ''without any official mass media outlets or foreign ministries, the international terrorist network has been successfully conducting a political propaganda campaign parallel to its terrorist activities, including via human rights NGOs''. ''By skillfully combining the truth, semi-truth and blatant lies, pseudo-human-rights NGOs are misleading international public opinion,'' he said.
Russian human rights group resolutely denounced Sultygov's allegations. In particular, the Memorial human rights centre said that the sources of financing for human rights NGOs are being strictly controlled. ''If Sultygov means funds provided to human rights organizations from Western sources, he has no idea about the degree of control of all financial flows there,'' Memorial member Alexander Cherkasov told Interfax.
''I would advise Sultygov to check the financing allocated to the area of his responsibility in Chechnya, where even the Audit Chamber has difficulty controlling the use of funds,'' he said.
Anna Neistat, director of the Human Rights Watch office in Moscow, told Interfax that Sultygov has already accused human rights organizations of having ties with international terrorists. But these are only words which he has never backed with any facts, she noted. Neistat said that the Kremlin ombudsman for Chechnya has no evidence or substantiated suspicions of any links between human rights organizations and international terrorism. If he mentioned any specific organization, this would make him vulnerable to defamation lawsuits, she added.