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Maskhadov: Chechnya's defiant ex-leader

Maskhadov accused Russia of carrying out a "genocide of the Chechen people."
Chechnya (Russia)
Vladimir V. Putin
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(CNN) -- Aslan Maskhadov, a rebel leader and former president of Chechnya, has said there is "no justification" for the seizure of the school in Beslan.

But he said recent terrorist attacks perpetrated by Chechens were "unavoidable" because of Russia's policies.

On Wednesday, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) offered a reward of 300 million rubles ($10.3 million) for information that could help them hunt down Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev.

Russian officials have blamed the pair for "inhuman terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation," including the attack in the southern town of Beslan, near Chechnya.

Born to Chechens in exile in Kazakhstan, Maskhadov's family returned to Chechnya in 1957.

He joined the Soviet army, serving in both Hungary and Lithuania, before becoming Chief of Staff of the Chechen army in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Under his leadership, Chechen forces won many battles against Russian forces sent to crush Chechen rebels in December 1994, but did not win independence from Russia.

In 1997, Maskhadov and Russian president Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement promising an end to 400 years of conflict between Moscow and the region.

Moscow, however, still insisted the region was a part of the Russian Federation.

Maskhadov became a candidate for president, running against the more radical Shamil Basayev, a field commander with a popular following.

Maskhadov won a landslide victory in January 1997, 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.

But Russia still refused to recognize Chechnya's claim of independence.

Maskhadov worked with Basayev until 1998, when Basayev established a network of military officers which soon devolved into rival warlords.

Chechen rebel forces crossed into Dagestan in 1999 and Moscow held Chechens responsible for a wave of bomb attacks across Russia.

Russia sent troops back into the republic, described Maskhadov's government as unlawful, and tried to build support for a parliament made up of Chechens in exile.

During fierce fighting, Maskhadov's government was removed from power and a pro-Moscow administration was set up.

After the Russian theater siege in October 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin ruled out talks with what he called "terrorists," including Maskhadov.

He said the separatist leader had "led Chechnya to economic collapse, hunger, and the total destruction of the spiritual and social sphere in Chechnya.

After Moscow-backed Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in May 2004, Maskhadov vowed to kill whoever replaced him.

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