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Basayev: No Maskhadov Betrayal

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev said Friday that rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was not betrayed but tracked down by federal special services who had intercepted his telephone calls.

The Federal Security Service has said Maskhadov was killed by FSB commandos during a sweep in the Chechen village of Tolstoy-Yurt on March 8. It announced last week that it had paid a $10 million reward to "citizens" for providing information about Maskhadov's whereabouts. The FSB also confirmed its pledge to pay $10 million for the information leading to Basayev's capture or death.

"I often asked him to at least call from the town, but he wanted to speak from where he was, and I could not do anything with it," Basayev said in a statement on the rebel Kavkaz Center web site. "Generally speaking, they established his location through his phone, and there wasn't a betrayal."

Basayev claimed that the Kremlin tricked Maskhadov into making a flurry of phone calls by secretly inviting him to participate in negotiations.

Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in 1997, had pressed the Kremlin to enter peace talks. "In this situation it was necessary to get more operative information from envoys abroad, and he began using the phone. ... He was calling the military units of mujahedin in the mountains very often," Basayev said. "Initially, he used precaution and drove away from the village, but then he began receiving calls at home and even calling from home himself."

The military tracked down and killed Chechnya's first separatist president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, while he was using a satellite phone in April 1995.

The head of the Moscow bureau of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, Akram Hazam, told Interfax on Friday that Maskhadov's widow, Kusama, told him that her husband had prepared to meet with federal negotiators shortly before his death. "On March 5, he called his wife and told her that he was going to negotiations and that everything would be fine," Hazam said.

Unidentified FSB officials said on Channel One television Thursday that Maskhadov had spent the past five months in Tolstoy-Yurt but information about his location was obtained only in early March. The FSB officials also claimed -- for the first time since Maskhadov's death -- that commandos first slipped a stun gas into the bunker where Maskhadov was hiding. After the gas failed to take effect, they threw in grenades, killing Maskhadov, the officials said.

Earlier, authorities said the commandos immediately threw in grenades -- a statement that prompted criticism that Maskhadov could have been taken alive if gas had been used.

Basayev said the rebels were not discouraged by Maskhadov's death. They "met the death of Aslan calmly, I can even say with satisfaction, in the sense that it added to the resoluteness ... to continue fighting," he said.

Police killed two suspected rebels during a sweep Sunday in the town of Achkhoi-Martan in southwestern Chechnya, The Associated Press reported.

(The Moscow Times 21.iii.05)

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