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>RUSSIA: Chechnya

Chechnya has been the scene of violent insurgency. It seemed like a desperate measure when Russian President Vladimir Putin handed the reins of the Kremlin's operation in Chechnya to his police force , pushing ahead with Moscow's plan to end a conflict long fought by the army and security forces. Since the first post-Soviet Chechen campaign began in 1994, fighting in the southern region has largely been managed by defense ministry troops and lately by the FSB domestic security service, one of the successor agencies to the Soviet-era KGB. But the decree by Putin will, from 1 September, put the interior ministry, and to some extent Chechen policemen on the ground, in charge of the campaign to quash separatist rebels. Progressively pulling the armed forces out of Chechnya is a key part of Kremlin efforts to prove life in the region ravaged by more than 10 years of war is returning to normal. Putin's peace blueprint, criticised by many observers for failing to include plans for talks with rebel leaders, follows the adoption of a new regional constitution in March. The idea of partial autonomy for Chechnya is central to the plan. But Chechen fighters, in an article posted on rebel Web sites , accused Moscow of pitting Chechens against Chechens while keeping its tight grip on the region (Reuters, 7/7/03).

Ronald Hilton - 7/11/03