Zakayev's Detention Could Undermine Peace Talks
Danish police arrested Akhmed Zakayev, the special envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, in his Copenhagen hotel room at 3:00 a.m. this morning.
Zakayev was arrested at the request of the Russian authorities and arraigned in a closed-door extradition hearing today. Under Danish law, he can be held for 13 days without bail.
Russia claims that Zakayev and other members of the Maskhadov government were complicit in last week's Moscow hostage crisis, which ended when Russian police used an unknown gas to subdue hostage takers.
"From everything we know, Russian claims that Zakayev was involved in the hostage crisis are unverified and appear tenuous at best," said Glen E. Howard, Executive Director of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya.
"Akhmed Zakayev called Russian authorities in Moscow on October 24 and offered to assist Russian officials in winning the hostages' release, but was rejected," Howard noted.
"We need to avoid painting Zakayev and other Chechen moderates with the broad brush of international terrorism until all the facts are known," Howard continued. "Isolating moderate nationalists in Chechnya will only strengthen extremist elements and perpetuate the bloodshed."
Zakayev has repeatedly denied that his government had any role in the Moscow hostage crisis. "The Government of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov decisively condemns any violent action directed against Russian civilians," he said on October 25, "We reject the use of terrorist methods for solving any problem."
Zakayev was attending the World Chechen Congress, a meeting organized by the Copenhagen-based Danish Support Committee for Chechnya. His arrest follows yesterday's passage of a resolution by Chechen expatriates declaring, "that terrorism is incompatible with the culture and goals of the Chechen people, and with the methods of the Chechen resistance."
In November 2001, Zakayev met in Moscow for talks with Victor Kazantsev, Russian President Vladimir Putin's Northern Caucasus envoy. Last August, he met with Boris Yeltsin's former national security adviser Ivan Rybkin, Russian Duma Member Aslambek Aslakhanov and former Russian Duma Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov in Liechtenstein to negotiate a framework for ending the war.
"Zakayev's arrest could be a serious setback for reaching a peaceful negotiated settlement," noted Howard, "He has been a crucial interlocutor in efforts to find a negotiated settlement to a war that has now entered its fourth year and shows no signs of ending," Howard said.