Chechen exile leader released in Poland

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Exiled Chechen independence leader Akhmed Zakayev was released from custody in Poland late Friday, after he was arrested earlier in the day on a Russian warrant accusing him of terrorism.

"Poland respects democratic values," Zakayev said in a live broadcast shown by TVN24 television, smiling as he left a Warsaw courthouse before a car collected him.

He said that he planned to attend the final day Saturday of a congress of Chechens near Warsaw.

In its ruling, the court said it had taken into consideration the fact that in 2003 Zakayev was granted political asylum in Britain, where he is now based.

"It is clear that a decision by any member state has the same effect across across the entire European Union," it said, quoted by the Polish news agency PAP.

Zakayev, 51, had arrived in Poland on Thursday to attend the three-day congress of some 300 exiles from conflict-torn Chechnya.

He travelled to the country despite warnings from Polish authorities that he risked being taken into custody.

"Because there was an international arrest warrant, police were under an obligation to detain him and to take him to prosecutors," police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said earlier Friday.

Supporters had said Thursday that Zakayev had planned in any case to surrender to Polish prosecutors during the visit.

Following his arrest Friday, they had questioned why he had been detained on this trip after having already been in Poland three times this year.

Zakayev was the European representative of Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov, who died fighting Russian forces in 2005.

Before Zakayev's arrest, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk had Thursday warned Russia not to count on getting the decision it wanted.

"The extradition procedure isn't the same as extradition," he said at a European Union summit in Brussels.

But he also warned supporters of an independent Chechnya against staging any anti-Russian provocations.

In Moscow earlier Friday, Russia's chief prosecutor Yury Chaika said Zakayev stood accused of "especially grave crimes including terrorism," but pledged he would get a fair hearing if handed over.

Moscow has fought two full-blown wars with separatists in Muslim-majority Chechnya since 1994, which left the region devastated.

It is now battling a radical Islamist-fuelled insurgency there and in the neighbouring Caucasus regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Pro-Moscow Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov had meanwhile urged Poland to extradite Zakayev.

"I am sure that the Polish leadership will make the right decision, considering relations between Russia and Poland, and Zakayev will finally get his just desserts," Kadyrov said earlier Friday.

For Poland, whose frosty ties with Russia have thawed recently, the arrest was a thorny issue, Marek Menkiszak of the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies told AFP earlier Friday.

"Poland is in a sense being played with in a set-up, or attempted set-up, by the secessionist Chechen authorities and the Russian Federation," Menkiszak said.

"It also faces a serious dilemma, with its obligations as a member of Interpol on the one hand, and on the other a situation in which Russia hasn't been able to supply convincing evidence of terrorist activity by Zakayev," he said.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article