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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Q&A: The Chechen conflict
Chechnya has been at war for most of the last 10 years. Low-level violence is continuing, and the republic remains the main source of instability in the volatile Caucasus region.

How long has the Chechen conflict been going on?

Chechnya declared independence from Russia in November 1991, but former Russian President Boris Yeltsin waited until 1994 before sending in the troops to restore Moscow's authority.

Russian soldier watches Chechens
The election of a pro-Russian president was dismissed as a farce
That provoked the first Chechen war, which ended in humiliating defeat for the Russian forces in 1996.

In 1997, the then rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was elected president and Russia recognised his government. But the issue of Chechnya's independence was not resolved.

On 1 October 1999, Russian Prime Minister (later President) Vladimir Putin sent troops back in after Chechen militants crossed into the neighbouring Muslim region of Dagestan in an unsuccessful attempt to start an armed uprising.

Russia's "anti-terrorist operation" also followed a wave of apartment block bombings in Moscow and other cities, widely blamed on Chechens.

What do the Chechens want?

Peace and stability are the main priority for most ordinary people.

Rebel fighters want independence, or at least self-rule, and they almost got it after 1996.

With Russian military forces out of the country, Chechens elected their own president in January 1997 - Aslan Maskhadov, the former Soviet artillery officer who had been the main rebel military commander during the war.

Under the peace deal negotiated with Moscow, a decision on Chechnya's final political status was delayed for five years.

But Mr Maskhadov was unable in peacetime to control his more radical field commanders, such as Shamil Basayev, and the breakaway republic descended into anarchy, becoming one of the hostage-taking capitals of the world.

Are there any prospects for peace?

Not immediately.

Mr Maskhadov was the only man who could and would have represented the rebels in peace talks, and he was killed by Russian forces in March 2005.

It is also doubtful whether Russia can crush the rebels by military force. They have killed a number of key rebel leaders in 2005 and 2006, but Chechnya's mountainous terrain is well-suited to guerrilla warfare.

The rebels stage small-scale attacks and ambushes on an almost daily basis. These are rarely reported outside Russia.

Are the rebels still capable of staging a major attack?

In October 2005, they carried out a raid on the city of Nalchik, the capital of the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, in which more than 100 people died.

October 2005: Scores killed in attack on Nalchik, Russia
September 2004: Gunmen seize school in Beslan, 320 deaths
August 2004: Suicide bombers destroy two airliners leaving Moscow, 89 deaths
August 2004: Suicide bomber kills 10 outside Moscow metro
October 2002: Moscow theatre seized, 129 hostages die
June 1994: Hospital siege, Budyonnovsk, southern Russia, 100 people killed
1991: Hijacks plane from southern Russia to Turkey to draw attention to Chechen fight for independence
The last major atrocity was the seizure of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in September 2004, which resulted in more than 300 deaths.

This attack, orchestrated by Shamil Basayev, followed the mid-air destruction of two Russian civilian airliners in August 2004, blamed on Chechen women suicide-bombers. Three months earlier, the rebels had assassinated the pro-Russian Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov.

On the whole, 2005 and 2006 have been quieter than most earlier years of the conflict.

Is there a risk of the conflict spreading beyond Chechnya?

Some Chechen rebel leaders appear to be trying to bring this about.

The most radical of them hope to start a holy war that would result in the creation of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

The attack in Beslan, in the republic of North Ossetia, followed an attack on the Interior Ministry in the republic of Ingushetia, in June 2004.

Some of the fighters in both attacks were reported to be not from Chechnya, but from other North Caucasian republics.

An Ingush rebel commander was reportedly killed in the attack on Nalchik.

What is Russia's policy on Chechnya?

The key word is "normalisation".

Moscow pinned great hopes on the election of a pro-Russian Chechen president in October 2003 - "a legitimate figure will appear, in whose hands all the mechanisms of power should be concentrated," as President Vladimir Putin put it.

Dzhokhar Dudayev (1991-1996): Ex-Soviet air force officer, killed by a missile homing in on his telephone
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev (1996-1997): Radical poet, killed by Russian agents in Qatar in 2004
Aslan Maskhadov (1997-2005): Ex-Soviet artillery officer elected president in 1997, killed by Russian special forces.
Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev (2005-2006): Radical cleric
Salman Raduyev: Died of internal bleeding in 2002, in a Russian jail
Khattab: Killed by a poisoned letter, 2002
Ruslan Gelayev: Killed in 2004 by border guards in Dagestan
Shamil Basayev: Killed in Ingushetia 2006, rebel vice-president at time of death
The election was intended to lead to a phased withdrawal of Russian forces, with local Chechen security forces taking increasing responsibility for security.

Earlier in the year, a new constitution had been passed in a referendum giving Chechnya more autonomy within the Russian Federation.

However, President Akhmad Kadyrov - who was elected after his three strongest rivals were forced to withdraw from the race - failed to unite Chechnya.

His security forces had a reputation for brutality and were widely regarded as a private army.

He was assassinated after nine months in power, when a massive bomb exploded at Grozny stadium during a ceremony marking victory in World War II.

Who is in charge of Chechnya now?

Mr Kadyrov's successor, Alu Alkhanov, was elected in August 2004. Once again, his strongest rival was prevented from standing and his legitimacy is in question.

But Mr Alkhanov is little more than a figurehead. The most powerful figure in Chechnya is Mr Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, who became prime minister in March 2006.

He controls an anti-terrorism squad blamed by Russian and Western rights groups for abductions, extra-judicial killings and torture. Mr Kadyrov denies the allegations.

Do the rebels have links with al-Qaeda?

It is possible but unproven.

It has been known for years that Muslim volunteers have travelled to Chechnya to join the fight, reportedly after attending training camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

In October 2002 a man suspected of helping to carry out the 9/11 attack told a German court that the alleged leader of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, had wanted to fight in Chechnya.

One of the main field commanders, until his death in 2002 at the hands of Russian forces, was an Arab called Khattab - a veteran of the Afghan mujahideen war against the USSR.

He was alleged to have been in occasional telephone contact with Osama Bin Laden.

Intercepted telephone calls also led US officials to allege in 2002 that fighters in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, near the border with Chechnya, were in contact with al-Qaeda.

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