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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Rebels Speak, Kremlin Fumes

Chechen rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev announced a unilateral cease-fire for a month, a rebel web site reported, but Basayev also threatened to carry out more Beslan-style attacks in an interview videotaped last month and shown on Britain's Channel 4 on Thursday.

Pro-Moscow Chechen officials scoffed at the cease-fire, calling it a possible response to the disappearance of eight of Maskhadov's relatives, who international human rights groups say are being held by Deputy Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's security force.

Moscow angrily fired off a protest to London over the Basayev broadcast and announced new charges against Basayev and Maskhadov.

Meanwhile, an Abkhaz security service official said Basayev has been killed in Chechnya following an argument with an Arab mercenary. Basayev, the most notorious Chechen warlord, has been reported dead many times before.

Maskhadov, who was Chechnya's president during its 1996-99 period of de facto independence, signed an order on Jan. 14 for rebels to suspend attacks in the republic and neighboring regions as a goodwill gesture until the end of the month, according to a statement posted on the Kavkaz Center web site.

The statement includes an order by Basayev for his forces to observe a cease-fire until Feb. 22, the eve of a holiday when Chechens commemorate the Stalin-era deportation of Chechens to Central Asia. Feb. 23 is also the national Defenders of the Fatherland Day.

Basayev, however, told privately owned Channel 4 that he remains determined to carry out attacks in Russian cities and against federal forces in Chechnya, according to excerpts of the interview published in The Times of London on Thursday. "We are planning more Beslan-type operations in the future because we are forced to do so," said Basayev, who has claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks, including the Beslan school hostage-taking, that killed more than 400 people in August and September.

He said he was willing to call a cease-fire and open peace negotiations with Moscow, but only if federal forces withdraw from Chechnya.

Channel 4 said the interview was filmed in January. It said it passed its questions to an intermediary, and Basayev answered them in a video filmed by his entourage at an undisclosed location. Channel 4 obtained the videotape through a journalist in the Middle East.

Hours before the Thursday night broadcast, the Foreign Ministry demanded that the British Foreign Office prevent Channel 4 from airing the interview. It said in a statement that the broadcast was "information in support of terrorists" and an "irresponsible step in disseminating to a wide viewership the views and threats of a bandit who is being searched for through Interpol and who is on the list of the counterterrorist committee of the United Nations Security Council."

Channel 4 stood by the interview. "We recognize, of course, that Shamil Basayev's views will be regarded worldwide as repugnant, but we reject utterly any notion that we are being irresponsible. It is simply not the case that the running of such material can be equated with condoning it," it said in a statement. "This has also been the case for many other instances where the views of those who advocate terrorism -- including Osama bin Laden -- have been carried by broadcast media."

Maskhadov has ordered a cease-fire at least once before, in April 2000 when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called on federal troops and Chechen rebels to halt their operations. The Chechens suspended major attacks, but smaller ones continued.

Kremlin-backed Chechen President Alu Alkhanov dismissed the cease-fire, saying, "We have no reason to take as the pure truth one of his customary declarations about suspending terror," Interfax reported.

He urged Maskhadov and Basayev to surrender if they really wanted peace.

Chechen State Council chief Taus Dzhabrailov suggested that the cease-fire might be linked with the disappearance of Maskhadov's relatives, and questioned whether Maskhadov was trying to present himself as a peacemaker and was actually prepared to end attacks, Interfax reported.

The eight relatives, including two brothers and a sister, went missing last month. The International Federation for Human Rights and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said in an open letter last week that the relatives are being held in a prison in the Kadyrov clan's home village, Tsentoroi.

In October, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov suggested detaining terrorists' relatives as a way to prevent attacks in the wake of the Beslan tragedy.

Chechen authorities have denied that Chechen or federal forces were behind the disappearance.

Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said the cease-fire could well be connected to the disappearance. "I do not rule out that he [Maskhadov] may have been forced to declare a cease-fire," he said.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, announced that they have formally charged Maskhadov and Basayev with organizing a series of terrorist acts, including the Beslan hostage-taking, attacks on police stations in Ingushetia in June, and an attack on police officers in Grozny last summer.

In the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, Yury Ashuba, deputy head of the region's security service, said Basayev was fatally wounded during a recent argument with an Arab mercenary in Chechnya's Gudermes district, Interfax reported.

Federal authorities made no immediate comment about the report of Basayev's death. Similar reports have surfaced over the years.