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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Chechen Rebels Seek Asylum in Finland

The New York Times reports that "more than a year after the killing of Aslan Maskhadov, the guerrilla commander and the president of the separatist government of Chechnya, his relatives are seeking political asylum in Finland."

The report continues:

The request, made public this week by the family, rekindles questions about the state of the war in Chechnya and about the reputations and prospects of separatists who have survived it.

Mr. Maskhadov's widow and two adult offspring live in Azerbaijan, where the government has allowed them to reside for several years just beyond the Russian border.

Their request to leave for Finland reflects worries about their safety, Mr. Maskhadov's son, Anzor, said in an e-mail message, and recognition that with Russia and its proxies now the dominant forces in Chechnya, they have little chance to return home.

Their Russian passports have expired, and they have become stateless, he said. "We cannot travel to, nor spend any time in, our republic," he wrote. "There have been threats made to our family directly."

Officials in Finland have declined to discuss the family's request, citing privacy rules associated with asylum applications. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which can process recommendations for resettlement, also declined to comment publicly.

The Maskhadovs have sought asylum elsewhere before, unsuccessfully, and their effort reflects the difficulties often associated with having a Chechen identity, and the influence Russia has had over countries that admit prominent people with ties to Chechen independence efforts.

Russia has complained of the presence of former separatist political figures in the United States and Britain. It has been quiet on this case.

The latest war between Russia and the separatists began in 1999 and has caused the near destruction of Grozny, the Chechen capital, and an unknown number of civilian deaths. As Russia seized more control of the republic, some separatists resorted to terrorism, including suicide bombings and hostage takings in a Moscow theater in 2002 and a public school in 2004. The campaign killed hundreds, including 186 children in the school, and hurt the separatists' reputation. The fighting slowed in late 2004, and Aslan Maskhadov — a former Soviet Army officer who was elected president of Chechnya and who spoke against terrorism and sought a cease-fire with Russia — was killed early last year. Critics have said his killing removed a moderate from the separatist ranks and left remaining fighters under the command of extremists and terrorists, including Shamil Basayev, who planned the hostage sieges and has tried, with some apparent success, to encourage pockets of fighting in Russian regions near Chechnya.

Russia insists Mr. Maskhadov was a terrorist, complicating the family's chances for Western help.

Anzor Maskhadov said he was confident of finding support, saying his father tried "to stop the war and to stop the bloodshed from both sides."

Gee, I bet Russia would've liked to object to this. However, it'll be tough now, seeing as how Russia has decided to give aid and comfort to the "bandit" Hamas regime in Palestine, nuclear weapons to Iran and U.S. military secrets to Iraq. I guess more neo-Soviet chickens have come home to roost. These are the times when a country finds out how many enemies it has.

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