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Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK


World: Europe

Islamists declare Dagestan independent

Hundreds of Russian troops have been sent to the area

Islamists have declared the Russian province of Dagestan an independent state and called for a holy war against Russia.


[ image:  ]
The Shura of Dagestan, an Islamic council not recognised by Moscow, reportedly signed the independence declaration at a secret meeting.

The declaration comes amid one of the most serious outbreaks of violence in the region since the Chechen war ended in 1996.

"We, the Muslims of Dagestan, officially declare the return of independence to the Islamic state of Dagestan," the text states.

It also calls on Chechens to support "the Muslims of Dagestan in their struggle against unbelievers for the liberation of the Islamic state of Dagestan from occupation".


The BBC's Tony Smith explains the background to the crisis in Dagestan
Reports said the declaration was signed at a meeting in one of the mountain towns under the control of Chechen insurgents who crossed into Dagestan at the weekend.

Police believe the rebels are linked to the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement which wants to unite Dagestan and Chechnya to form a single independent Islamic state.

(Click here to see a map of the region)

The declaration came a day after sacked Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin warned that Russia risked losing Dagestan.


The BBC's Rob Parsons: Dagestan promises to provide an early test for Mr Putin
Mr Stepashin had just returned from the southern province with undisclosed plans to defuse the conflict when he was sacked on Monday by President Boris Yeltsin.

He has been replaced by intelligence chief Vladimir Putin who was summoned to the Kremlin on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

Mr Putin said the president had approved a ''package of measures for imposing order and discipline'' and predicted the uprising would be sorted out within two weeks.

Fighting intensifies

The rebels' call for a holy war came as fighting intensified in the mountainous Botlikh area where rebels seized several villages over the weekend.


[ image: Shamyl Basayev (left) has been blamed for the insurgency]
Shamyl Basayev (left) has been blamed for the insurgency
Russia says its forces have killed 40 fighters.

But reports say the guerillas have taken control of another village overnight, bringing them within 2km (one mile) of the main town in the region.

At least six Russian soldiers have been killed and 18 wounded since the weekend when hundreds of troops were sent into the mountains.

The rebels are also said to have hit and slightly damaged a helicopter carrying the Russian military chief of staff, Anatoly Kvashnin.

Refugees

Local authorities have vowed to arm the civilian population to drive out the rebels.

Regional authorities say nearly 4,000 civilians have arrived in the capital Makhachkala from the captured villages.

The Dagestani Government has sent trucks to Botlikh to evacuate anyone else who wants to leave.

Refugees were quoted saying the rebels were led by the Chechen Shamyl Basayev and a field commander of Jordanian origin known as Khattab.

Mr Basayev, who was prime minister of Chechnya for seven months last year, is still wanted by Moscow for his role in the raid on Budennovsk in southern Russia, in which 1,000 people were held hostage.

The RIA-Novosti news agency said the several hundred insurgents included Arabs and Africans as well as Dagestanis.


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