Chechen leader wanted by Russia is in Poland: activists

16th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Chechen independence leader Akhmed Zakayev, wanted by Russia for alleged terrorism, is in Poland where he could face arrest under an international warrant, organisers said Thursday.

Zakayev came to Poland for a two-day congress of exiles from the conflict-torn region which began Thursday.

"Akhmed Zakayev is in Warsaw, is staying in a hotel, and I think he'll come to the congress tomorrow morning," the meeting's organiser Deni Teps told reporters.

British-based Zakayev was the spokesman of Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed fighting Russian forces in 2005.

Britain granted Zakayev political asylum in 2003 and has refused Moscow's calls for him to be extradited for alleged terrorism by Chechen separatists. He is able to travel abroad thanks to an internationally-recognised refugee passport.

On Wednesday, Polish authorities had warned that he could face arrest if he came to Poland, under the international warrant issued by Russia.

"If Mr. Zakayev comes to Poland, even though he is not wanted by our country, the police still have the obligation to detain him and bring him before public prosecutors and a court that will rule on his eventual extradition," Mateusz Martyniuk, spokesman for Poland's prosecutor general told AFP.

Around 300 people were due to attend the World Chechen Congress in Pultusk, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of the capital Warsaw.

Russia has slammed the event, claiming the goal is to stoke strife in the troubled Caucasus region.

On Tuesday, Russia's new ambassador to Poland, Alexander Alekseyev, had said Moscow would demand Zakayev's extradition should he attend.

Asked Wednesday if the congress would harm Warsaw's ties with Moscow, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk acknowledged the issue was "sensitive and delicate".

"I believe it is in the interest of Chechens to seek peaceful and sensible solutions," he told reporters.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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