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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 15:17 GMT
Chechen businessman seeks anti-Islamist coalition

Russian soldiers Maleg Sydeliev wants Russian soldiers to rid Chechnya of Islamic militants

The BBC's Paul Wood reports

Hundreds of Chechen men meet in their village square. They are here to listen to Malik Saidulayev, the multi-millionaire Chechen businessman who owns, among other things, Russia's main lottery and a mansion in London.

Battle for the Caucasus
Flanked by bodyguards, he climbs on a truck to ask them to support Moscow's effort against what he says are the Islamic extremists who've brought ruin to Chechnya.

"This freedom the Islamic commanders promised us was a lie," he said. "Instead there was disorder; people couldn't even walk down the streets - there was kidnapping.

"Independence is when people are not in danger; when our girls can marry in a normal way. The freedom and independence which they say they want doesn't exist at all."

Moscow stooge

Russian bombers cross the sky as the meeting breaks up. Mr Saidulayev was involved in the failed effort to free the four international telecoms workers who were kidnapped and beheaded.

He has been accused of being Moscow's stooge and I ask him how he can side with the Russians while so many civilians are dying in the continuing military offensive.

"I'm not siding with the Russians. I'm siding with my people," he says. "I would even be with those who are bombing rather than beside the Islamic extremists who are beheading people."

"I know one thing. We are a small nation and we can't achieve anything with fighting. The task of my negotations is to minimise the victims on all sides."

Two or three thousand Islamic extremists have brought war to our country
Malik Saidulayev
Mr Saidulayev is visiting sympathetic local commanders in the hills and to facilitate talks on forming a pro-Russian coalition, giving them satellite telephones, which happen to be supplied by the Russian security services, the FSB, successor to the KGB.

We called on of the commanders, Suleyman Yamediev, to ask why he was thinking of entering such a pact.

"Three years ago, we fought the Russians," he says, "now two or three thousand Islamic extremists have brought war to our country and three hundred thousand people are refugees living in tents.

"Of course, the Russians are killing a lot of innocent people. We want to liberate Chechnya ourselves and we won't stop until the last fundamentalist criminal is killed. With God's help, we can do it now."


The Chechen fighters have always been split into numerous factions, but there seems a genuine and widespread aversion among Muslim Chechens to the Islamic creed, Wahabism, practiced by the most hardline guerrillas.

The role of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists in the Chechen struggle is one more reason why Russia will suffer little more than words of condemnation
The BBC's Paul Wood
As well as the Russians, these Islamic fighters, too, have been accused of atrocities.

"Many Chechen civilians do place a significant amount of blame for this war on the Wahabi fighters, " said Peter Buckhard of Human Rights Watch.

"We've documented cases in many towns where the village elders went to meet with Wahabi fighters to ask then to leave so the town wouldn't be destroyed by Russian forces, and the Wahabis often fired at their feet and told them to leave."

When it comes to Western intervention, Chechnya is not Bosnia, because it is not an internationally-recognised state. It is not Kosovo, because Russia is a nuclear power and cannot be pushed around like Yugoslavia.

But the role of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists in the Chechen struggle is one more reason why Russia will suffer little more than words of condemnation from the international community.

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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  Europe
UN returns to help Chechens
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'Village massacre' near Grozny
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