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Russian Regional Boss Seeks Rebel Amnesty to Quell Terror

A car is seen on fire in Makhachkal
After 112 bombings last year in Dagestan, part of Russias mainly Muslim North Caucasus, the regions leader wants to stop the killing by offering amnesty to fighters who turn themselves in. Photographer: Zaur Aliev/AFP/Getty Images

Dagestan leader Magomedsalam Magomedov is seeking an amnesty for fighters responsible for 112 bombings in the North Caucasus region last year to stop the killings.

“The amnesty must be as broad as possible,” he said in a Feb. 28 interview in his office in the regional capital Makhachkala. “It must give a chance for people who want to return to avoid punishment. If we’re going to call them back into society, we have to open the door.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, his predecessor who now serves as prime minister, have struggled to combat terrorism, which is threatening the country’s aspirations to lure foreign capital and match the economic growth rates in other emerging-market nations including China, Brazil and India.

The attacks are concentrated in the North Caucasus and a suicide bomber linked to the region killed 37 people at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport on Jan. 24, the second major attack on the capital in a year.

Dagestan, wedged between the Caspian Sea and Chechnya, where federal forces fought two wars against separatists after the collapse of the Soviet Union, suffered more bombings in 2010 than any other region of Russia. Kabardino-Balkaria, also in the North Caucasus, came second with 41 bombings, according to the nongovernmental research group Caucasian Knot.

‘Angry, Disaffected’

Magomedov, a former economics professor who took over as the leader of Dagestan a year ago, said there are hardened terrorists who’ll never come down from the mountains. He’s targeting the less zealous majority, many of whom are common criminals not driven by ideology.

“The most important thing is to deprive the terrorists of their social base, so they can’t fill their ranks with angry, disaffected young people,” said Magomedov “The young will go down this radical road unless we can provide the basic conditions they deserve.”

Radical Islam is spreading across the region, adding ideological fuel to the fire, according to Ruslan Kurbanov, a political scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Terrorism is also fuelled by corruption, the lack of political freedoms and social injustice, which help recruit new cadres from socially deprived circles, he said.

‘Against the Secular State’

“It’s a rebellion against the secular state, which they want to destroy and replace,” he said by phone. “The children of senior officials, judges and policemen often join the militants.”

An amnesty must be approved by the State Duma in Moscow and Magomedov seeks the support of Medvedev to push the legislation through. The Kremlin’s press service declined to comment immediately.

Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin used amnesties in the past in an attempt to quell violent unrest. In 2006, during Putin’s second term as president, an amnesty was given to Chechen rebels who weren’t involved in serious crimes. Authorities said that the brother of Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov was among those who surrendered.

Umarov claimed responsibility for the Domodedovo attack as well as for twin suicide bombings in Moscow subway stations in March 2010 that killed 40 people.

‘Remained Fighters’

Parliament previously approved an amnesty for Chechen fighters in 2003 that covered crimes committed in the previous 10 years, including the first separatist war in the region.

“In Chechnya, many militants weren’t disarmed,” said Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of Caucasian Knot, a Moscow-based news and analysis group. “They remained fighters, but now they were shooting at the people they’d previously been fighting alongside against Moscow.”

While waiting for the Kremlin to approve an amnesty, Magomedov appealed to prosecutors and judges to reduce sentences and to grant probation or release for militants who vow lay down their weapons.

Beslan Batsiev, 30, a militant charged with terrorism who escaped to western Europe seven years ago, sought a pardon over Skype. His case was reviewed on Feb. 28 by a commission chaired by the Dagestan leader to help former terrorists adapt to a peaceful life. He plans to set up similar panels in most parts of the republic.

‘Very Hopeful’

“We’re very hopeful that the president of Russia will accept this amnesty program,” said Magomedov, whose father, Magomedali, ran the region from 1987 to 2006. “We’re not going to get fixated on the use of force or negotiations.”

Twenty-six militants have returned to normal life and 10 more are waiting to be assessed by the commissions, Dagestan Deputy Prime Minister Rezvan Kurbanov, who is in charge of law-enforcement agencies, said on Feb 28.

While Chechnya has stabilized under Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a former militant whom Human Rights Watch has accused of crimes against humanity, which he denied, violence intensified in other North Caucasus regions, including Dagestan.

There about 1,000 militants in the North Caucasus, Russian deputy prime-minister Alexander Khloponin said, citing estimates by researchers.

“The problem isn’t that there are a thousand” militants, “but that we kill them and they keep filling their ranks” with new recruits, Khloponin, the former OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel chief who runs the North Caucasus region for Putin and Medvedev, said on Feb. 11.

Magomedov said that while the number of terrorist attacks in Dagestan continues to grow, their severity has diminished since suicide bombers killed more than a dozen people in the city of Kizlyar in March 2010, two days after the Moscow subway attacks.

Law enforcement agencies responded to the Kizlyar attacks with a crackdown, killing about 200 militants by September. Dagestan government data show 100 arrests made.

“Now we kill more of them than they kill policemen,” Magomedov said.

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