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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senior Separatist Returns to Chechnya

A top rebel has returned to Chechnya and denounced its insurgency, according to a rebel web site and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been lauded for reconstruction but accused of rampant rights violations.

The return of Bukhari Barayev this week could be a substantial propaganda boost for Kadyrov, who has been leading the rebuilding of the war-shattered region with tens of millions of dollars from the federal government.

But it could also raise new suspicions that Kadyrov is putting unbearable pressure on exiled rebels or buying them off. Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Chechen authorities of killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and other abuses.

Such suspicions gained wide attention last month when a dissident former bodyguard of Kadyrov's, Umar Israilov, was gunned down in Vienna. Austrian authorities said last week that Israilov had filed a criminal complaint against Kadyrov, accusing him of torture and other abuses in Chechnya.

Barayev also lived in Vienna, where he acted as European envoy for the Chechen rebels, and had attended Israilov's funeral, where he accused Kadyrov of murder in a speech, according to the rebel web site Kavkaz Center.

Barayev's son, Movsar, led the 2002 seizure of some 900 hostages at a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels; the siege ended in the deaths of at least 130 hostages, most of them from the narcotic gas that special forces pumped into the theater to disable the attackers.

His brother, Arbi, had been one of Chechnya's most feared warlords before he was killed by federal forces in 2001. "I don't want to be on the side of those people whose names will be eternally cursed by my people," Barayev said, according to a statement from Kadyrov's office. He urged the rebels to "unite with your people and begin a peaceful life."