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Sunday, December 13, 1998 Published at 13:20 GMT

World: Europe

Chechen president orders kidnap crackdown

Guerrillas who fought Russia are ordered back into the military

By Moscow Correspondent Robert Parsons

The President of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, has ordered veterans of the breakaway republic's war of independence against Russia to back the Chechen military's fight against organised crime.

Mr Maskhadov's decree follows the decapitation of three Britons and a New Zealander by a kidnap gang last week.

[ image: Aslan Maskhadov: Intends to launch a fight against banditry]
Aslan Maskhadov: Intends to launch a fight against banditry
Mr Maskhadov has ordered a partial call-up of army reserves in a desperate attempt to restore a semblance of order in the region and bloody the noses of Chechnya's all powerful kidnap gangs.

A senior government official said the president intended to launch a real fight against banditry.

More than 400 people have been kidnapped in Chechnya since the end of its war of independence with Russia in 1996.

Kidnapper named

The official also named the man the Chechen authorities accuse of leading the kidnap gang which killed the three Britons and the New Zealander.

He said Field Commander, Arbi Barayev, had masterminded both their kidnapping last October and their murder last week.

Arbi Barayev is one of the most notorious of Chechnya's many warlords. He is believed to have been the leader of an armed uprising against President Maskhadov last August which left 80 people dead.

He is also a member of a strict Islamic sect whose grip on Chechnya has grown appreciably stronger in the years since the war with Russia.

The Wahabist Group, to which he belongs, is set on ridding Chechnya of Western influence.

If Aslan Maskhadov is to re-establish his credibility both with his own people and the international community, he knows he has to destroy groups like Barayev's, but doing so may be beyond his means.

A similar mobilisation in August produced few results and changed nothing.

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