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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 March 2007, 12:01 GMT
Scars remain amid Chechen revival
As Chechen warlord-in-chief Ramzan Kadyrov becomes the region's president, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes finds the scars of war still linger beneath the apparently resurgent capital Grozny.

At seven in the morning on a freezing cold winter's day, I found myself standing on the edge of a snow covered field in the middle of the Chechen countryside. Having failed to check the weather forecast I'd left Moscow without my thick down jacket.

Kadyrov dances with woman in traditional costume during Friday's celebrations
Mr Kadyrov is anything but a shrinking violet
Now the only thing standing between me and the icy winds blowing off the Caucasus mountains was a highly inadequate fleece. But things were about to get worse.

Glowering at me, a pair of huge black stone lions stood guard on either side of an imposing gateway, the entrance to a sprawling compound that is home to Chechnya's warlord-in-chief Ramzan Kadyrov.

A group of Mr Kadyrov's henchmen eyed me suspiciously, their fingers uncomfortably close to the triggers on their automatic weapons.

I'd been summoned here from Moscow to interview the man about to become Chechnya's new president.

Running the war ravaged republic isn't a job for the faint-hearted. But then Ramzan Kadyrov is no blushing violet.

Meeting with destiny

In the early 1990s at the tender age of 16 he was already commanding a band of rebel fighters in the first Chechen war.

After the second Chechen war in 2002, Mr Kadyrov's father switched sides, leading a pro-Moscow government of former rebels. Two years later the elder Kadyrov was dead, blown up by an assassin's bomb.

Desperate to find a replacement, Moscow turned to his then 28-year-old son. The former rebel became Chechnya's prime minister.

Map of Chechnya
The problem for me was that the man now about to be promoted to president had disappeared.

As I stamped my feet trying to stay warm a slick young man in a tweed overcoat emerged from the gatehouse. In perfect London-accented English he apologised for his boss's failure to appear.

Either he didn't want to tell me, or more likely, he didn't know that Mr Kadyrov was in fact in Moscow. While I'd been heading south, he was heading in the opposite direction, called to the Kremlin for his meeting with destiny. There would be no interview with the Lion of the Caucusus.

A few minutes later amid a frenzy of shouting and revving engines I was bundled into a car. We were heading for Grozny, Chechnya's decimated capital.

The more young Chechen men working on building sites, the fewer that will be tempted to pick up a gun against Russia

As we lurched down the potholed road our convoy gathered speed. Soon the speedometer on the old Volga saloon was reading 160 km/h, that's 100 miles-an-hour, on a bumpy two-lane Chechen road. With mounting alarm I grasped for my seatbelt, only to find the buckle missing.

The Grozny I had expected, the one I'd seen on television, resembled Berlin in 1945. Just four years ago the United Nations still called Grozny the most destroyed city on earth. Ravaged by two wars, it had not a single building left undamaged.

But now right in front of me, on either side of Grozny's main street, stood rows of freshly painted blocks of flats. At the far end the soaring minarets of a huge new mosque. One of my colleagues who'd been in the city a year ago was even more stunned.

"Last year this whole street was still a bomb site," he said, in disbelief.


Grozny is being rebuilt at a frenetic pace... and it's being paid for by Moscow. For the Kremlin the sooner the scars are erased, the sooner the outside world will forget the two brutal wars it fought to keep the rebel republic under Russian control.

Relatives of disappeared hold photos
For some, the war is still not over
And the more young Chechen men working on building sites, the fewer that will be tempted to pick up a gun against Russia.

But while Moscow pays the bills, running Chechnya is today left to Ramzan Kadyrov and his band of former rebels.

In many ways the policy has been a success. The war does seem to be over - thousands of rebel fighters have been absorbed into Mr Kadyrov's new Chechen army.

But under his rule thousands of other Chechen men have disappeared without trace.

In the middle of Grozny I am surrounded by a group of women holding scratchy photographs of young men. They are the mothers of the disappeared. Their stories are eerily similar, of sons, brothers and husbands who left home one day to go to work, to the shops, to apply for a new passport, and never came back.

A woman with bright green eyes looks at me imploringly. I just want to know what has happened to my son, she says. Where is he? Is he alive or dead? People say life is better now, that the war is over, but for us the war will never be over until we find out what has happened to our children.

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