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Chechen rebel leader jailed

MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- A Russian court has found Chechen rebel commander Salman Raduyev guilty of terrorism and murder, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Raduyev was the only prominent rebel commander to be arrested and brought to trial since the Russian armed forces entered the breakaway region seven years ago.

Russia's top prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov personally directed the case, underlining the importance the government placed on putting Raduyev and three accomplices in a bloody 1996 raid behind bars.

"New, high-profile trials can be expected in the near future," Ustinov told reporters after the sentencing.

Raduyev is best known for leading the January 1996 raid on the southern Russian town of Kizlyar, in which 78 people were killed. He and other rebels took hundreds of hostages at a local hospital and used some of them as human shields. He was arrested in March 2000.

In addition to terrorism, Raduyev and three alleged accomplices were charged with banditry, hostage-taking, and organizing murders. In all, they faced up to 10 counts each.

"I couldn't care less if I get a life sentence," Raduyev said during a break in the court session, before the sentencing. "I have died three times already, I can spend my life in prison, I have no regrets."

Raduyev, who was severely wounded several times, has said repeatedly that he was merely taking orders from late rebel president Dzhokhar Dudayev when he led the Kizlyar raid. Raduyev was commander of Dudayev's army.

The court sentenced Raduyev's alleged accomplice Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev to 15 years in prison, a third defendant, Aslanbek Alkhazurov, to eight years in prison, and the last defendant, Khusein Gaisumov, to five years.

Raduyev and Atgeriyev were found not guilty on the counts of organizing and participating in illegal armed formations -- the Russian term for rebel bands.

Defence lawyers said they would appeal.

Raduyev, who eagerly sought media exposure, enjoys more notoriety in Russia than in Chechnya, where he never had the following of other commanders including Shamil Basayev.

Atgeriyev played a more central role in the rebels' struggle, serving both as a deputy prime minister and the head of security in the separatist government. However, rebels suspected him of later collaborating with the Russian government. Russian forces detained him in October, officials said.

"The war in Chechnya could be stopped if war criminals from both sides were put in the dock, including Generals Troshev and Shamanov," Atgeriyev said during a court break, referring to two of the Russians' commanders who were accused of brutal treatment of civilians.

Six Russian servicemen were killed and six were wounded in rebel attacks over the past 24 hours, said an official in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration said on Tuesday.

He said that Russian troops had been reinforced in Argun, near the capital Grozny, where overnight shootouts are frequent.

Chechen rebels won de facto independence, pushing Russian troops out of the separatist republic in 1996 after a brutal, 20-month war.

However, the Russian armed services returned in fall 1999, after rebels raided the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan and after a series of apartment bombings in which about 300 Russians perished.


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