Polish police arrest Chechen independence leader

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Polish police said Friday they had arrested exiled Chechen independence leader Akhmed Zakayev who is wanted in Russia on terrorism charges.

Zakayev had arrived in Poland on Thursday to attend a two-day congress of exiles from conflict-torn Chechnya. He lives in Britain, where he has political asylum.

An AFP reporter saw Zakayev being driven to a prosecutor's office under police escort.

Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said Poland was responding to an international arrest warrant issued by Russia and had no option but to detain Zakayev.

"He was arrested by plainclothes police as he was leaving a building," Sokolowski told TVN24 television.

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

Polish authorities had warned on Wednesday that Zakayev could face arrest if he came to the country and that a Polish court would have to decide if he would be extradited.

"The prosecutors have just received the formal arrest request for Mr. Zakayev from the Russian Federation and are studying it," Warsaw district prosecution spokeswoman Monika Lewandowska later told reporters.

Russian officials had warned they would demand Zakayev's extradition should he attend the conference of some 300 Chechen exiles, set to end later Friday.

"He must be tried in Russia," Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Khloponin told the Interfax news agency following the arrest.

"Akhmed Zakayev is an international criminal and an international terrorist," he added.

Moscow has condemned the Chechen gathering north of Warsaw as a bid to stoke strife in the troubled Caucasus region.

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

Britain granted Zakayev political asylum in 2003 and has rejected Moscow's calls for him to be extradited.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Thursday warned Russia not to count on Polish courts reaching the decision Moscow wanted.

"The extradition procedure isn't the same as extradition," he was quoted as saying by PAP at a European Union summit in Brussels.

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

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.

Meanwhile Adam Borowski, a Pole who is a supporter of Zakayev and the Chechen cause, had Thursday told the Polish news agency PAP that Zakayev intended to surrender to prosecutors.

Borowski said Zakayev's lawyer and a prosecution official had agreed the Chechen would come to the office voluntarily.

"This accord was broken," he said, although he acknowledged that Polish authorities had been obliged to make the arrest.

But prosecutors denied there had been a deal, saying in a statement that Zakayev had simply informed them he was likely to turn himself in.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article