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 Friday, 6 December, 2002, 22:39 GMT
Zakayev: Key Chechen figure
Akhmed Zakayev
Zakayev is President Maskhadov's right-hand man
Akhmed Zakayev is an actor turned soldier who became the right-hand man of the elected Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov.

He became Mr Maskhadov's deputy prime minister after losing the presidential battle in 1997 and was appointed as the Chechen leader's special envoy abroad.

All Chechens are after one thing only - sovereignty as a guarantee of security for the people. Hence the necessity of a political dialogue

Ahmed Zakayev
He even held an exploratory meeting with the representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, though nothing was agreed.

But following the takeover of the Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels in October - and the deaths of more than 120 hostages as special forces ended the siege - Russia called for Mr Zakayev to be detained as a terrorist.

He was first arrested in Denmark - where he had been attending a Chechen congress - before a court refused to allow Russia's request for him to be extradited on terrorism charges and ordered him freed.

But Moscow issued a global warrant which meant Mr Zakayev could be arrested in any country which is a member of Interpol and that led to him being detained on arrival at Britain's Heathrow airport.

Brigadier

Mr Zakayev was born in 1959 in Kazakhstan, where many Chechens had been deported, and trained to be an actor.

He made his mark as a field commander during the first Chechen war and was given the rank of brigadier by the first Chechen President, General Dudayev.

His fighters were part of the force that captured Grozny in a surprise attack on the Russian army in August of 1996.

He then was instrumental in negotiating the Khasavyurt peace accords that gave Chechnya de facto independence.

Moderate

After being made Mr Maskhadov's deputy, he continued his guerrilla role, leading a commando force during an incursion into neighbouring Dagestan - an outfit which was accused by Russian authorities of brutality.

But now he is widely seen as a relative moderate, and spends much time on diplomatic offensives involving Western European officials.

This March he met the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal, Carla del Ponte, to try to persuade her to set a court investigating alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya.

But following the 11 September attacks on the US in 2001, Russia has been keen to portray the struggle in Chechnya as part of the war against terrorism and the Chechens - including Mr Zakayev - as dangerous criminals.

See also:

06 Dec 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Europe
29 Oct 02 | Europe
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