(MOSNEWS) Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov is among members of a rebel group, which has been blocked in the forest in East Chechnya, the Itar-Tass news agency reported on Wednesday citing the head of the Nozhay-Yurt district administration, Vakha Magamgaziyev.
The official said that the rebel group had been encircled in the forest located in the junction of three Chechen districts: Nozhay-Yurtovskiy, Vedenskiy and Kurchaloyevskiy. The call signs of Maskhadov’s associates are regularly heard in the rebels’ radio messages, Magamgaziyev said.
The rebel group, blocked in the forest near the villages of Gansal-Chu and Meskety, have lost many its members in the course of combat engagements with Chechen police. There are casualties among the search detachment, too: five people have been killed and over 10 injured.
A special operation aimed at eliminating a large militant group has been under way in the mountains of southeast Chechnya for the third day now. The area has been completely encircled.
Former Soviet Army colonel Aslan Maskhadov became Chief of Staff of the Chechen army in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He fought against Russian forces in the first Chechen war of 1994-1997.
In January 1997 Maskhadov won a landslide victory in Chechen presidential elections, swearing “to reinforce the independence of the Chechen state.” The election was declared fair by international monitors. Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent his congratulations, and Russia said it wanted to rebuild relations with Chechnya.
However, Russia still refused to recognize Chechnya’s claim of independence.
In 1999 Chechen rebel forces crossed into the Russian internal republic of Dagestan and Moscow held Chechens responsible for a wave of bomb attacks across Russia.
On the same year Russia sent troops back into the republic, and proclaimed Maskhadov’s government as unlawful. After fierce fighting, Maskhadov removed from power and a pro-Moscow administration was set up. After Moscow-backed Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in May 2004, Maskhadov vowed to kill whoever replaced him.
After the Russian theater siege in October 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin ruled out talks with what he called “terrorists,” including Maskhadov. After the hostage crisis in the South Russia town of Beslan in September 2004 Russia’s FSB has set a $10 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Maskhadov and top Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev.