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Chechens Drop Russia Talks After Leader’s Death

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The successor of slain guerrilla leader Dzhokar M. Dudayev said Wednesday that his separatist forces in Chechnya will not resume talks on ending their war with Russia until they determine who targeted Dudayev for what appears to have been an assassination.

The condition set by Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a hard-line secessionist who served as Dudayev’s ideologist, was a clear sign that the rebel chief’s death in a Russian missile attack late Sunday will not lead to an early end of the 16-month-old conflict.

“I still favor a peaceful settlement,” Yandarbiyev told Russia’s official Itar-Tass news agency after a memorial service for Dudayev, whose death became widely known late Tuesday. But talks can be held, he added, “only after an investigation into who planned this terrorist act.”

His remarks came amid reports that the fatal wound was caused by a missile programmed to home in on the briefcase-sized satellite phone that Dudayev was using in a field near his clandestine headquarters in the village of Gekhi-Chu.

An aide to Dudayev said two missiles fired from an aircraft were electronically guided to the phone by signals bouncing between the portable phone’s antenna and a space satellite.

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A matching account given by Russian sources to the Interfax news agency said the same technique had been used in four previous attempts on Dudayev’s life in recent months.

The newspaper Izvestia said Dudayev and his personal representative to Moscow died while phoning an aide to Morocco’s King Hassan II, who had been asked by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin to help mediate an end to the war.

Aides said Dudayev died of a shrapnel wound in the head.

The wreckage of his Russian-made jeep and charred bits of his green military uniform were shown Wednesday evening on Russian television, along with scenes of Chechens observing three days of mourning.

People across the tiny breakaway republic shrieked, cupped their hands in prayer and wept Wednesday at memorial gatherings for the 52-year-old former Soviet air force general, who was buried the night before by a small group of aides and relatives.

“We don’t trust the Russians to leave him alone,” said Bik Altemirov, an official in Dudayev’s government-in-hiding, explaining why the burial place was kept secret.

Rebel leaders who united behind Dudayev but differed with him over his stated willingness to make peace said they need to know whether Yeltsin ordered their leader’s assassination before they decide whether to accept the Kremlin’s recent offer of talks.

Russian military leaders in Chechnya denied killing Dudayev.

Yeltsin, en route to a state visit to China, shrugged off the dramatic end of a man whose separatist struggle has cost more than 20,000 lives and kept the Kremlin in near-constant crisis since late 1994.

“When a person dies, what can be done?” Yeltsin said to reporters. “With or without Dudayev, we will wind up everything in Chechnya with peace.”

It was clear, however, that many Kremlin advisors believe that Dudayev’s removal will help Yeltsin--who is waging an underdog campaign against a Communist candidate--fulfill a campaign pledge to end the costly war before Russia’s June 16 presidential election.

By their reasoning, Gen. Aslan Maskhadov, Dudayev’s moderate defense minister, is more willing than his boss was to make peace with Russia, and he can now come to the fore as the Chechen leader.

Alternatively, they figure, the separatist movement might splinter, allowing Yeltsin to diminish the war by making peace with some rebel commanders.

But the harsh rhetoric from separatist leaders Wednesday suggested otherwise.

“A compromise was possible under Dudayev, but now this is no longer the case,” said Akhmet Zakayev, a rebel field commander.

“Dudayev didn’t control all the rebel forces by any stretch of the imagination, but with him gone I think you’re going to see even less control, and that can complicate things for the Russians,” a Western diplomat in Moscow said.

Any moderate forces trying to lead the Chechens could have trouble with Shamil Basayev, the field commander who led a hostage-taking raid into Russia last summer and has threatened new terrorist attacks, or with Ruslan Gelayev. The two warlords hold sway over villages in eastern and western Chechnya, respectively.

Apparently not prepared to elevate one military leader over another, the separatists’ ruling council Monday chose Yandarbiyev, Dudayev’s vice president since 1993, to be his successor as president and commander in chief. However, the 44-year-old poet and intellectual, who wears military fatigues but has no combat experience, is expected to lead in name only.


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