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Sunday, October 4, 1998 Published at 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK

World: Europe

Profile of Chechnya

Chechnya is a region of about one million people in the Caucasus mountains.

The Russian constitution lists Chechnya, which spreads over 6,000 square miles, as a part of the Russian Federation.

However, in 1990 a secession movement began to gain force, and on 2 November 1991, Chechnya proclaimed its independence.

In March 1992, a constitution was adopted, which defines the Chechen Republic as an independent, secular state governed by a president and a parliament.

Troops sent in

In 1994, Russia sent troops to Chechnya to crush the independence movement of President Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Russian troops moved into Grozny after a bombardment which reduced it to ruins. President Yeltsin ordered a unilateral ceasefire.

In June 1995, Chechen rebels attacked the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk, and took 2,000 civilians hostage in a hospital.

Russian troops unsuccessfully stormed the hospital twice. After negotiations between Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and rebels, the hostages were released.

In July 1995, negotiators signed a military agreement on troop withdrawals and disarmament of rebel fighters, but the pact stalled as clashes continued.

End to military action

In February 1996, President Yeltsin admitted the Chechnya foray was "maybe one of our mistakes".

He announced a halt to military action and offered talks with rebels. A truce was agreed in May 1996.

Chechnya has been running its own affairs since the departure of Russian troops.

Moscow maintains that Chechnya remains part of Russia, but it has no control over its affairs.

Hostage-taking starts

Since the end of fighting with Russia, Chechnya has been plagued by hostage-taking.

President Aslan Maskhadov's government has been unable to stem the kidnappings, which have become a steady business for some criminal gangs.

The Chechen Government claims the kidnapping epidemic, which has seriously damaged its efforts to win international recognition, is at least partly orchestrated by the Russian secret services.

The crime wave and desperate economic situation led President Maskhadov to appoint a new tough government, headed by Shamil Basayev, the most famous - and feared - Chechen field commander.

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