February 18, 2008 / 9:34 AM / 11 years ago

Russia's Chechen rebels hail Kosovo independence

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechen rebels fighting to secede from Russia hailed Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, comparing Pristina’s fight against Serbia to their own struggle against Moscow.

Russia has strongly opposed Kosovo independence, arguing that to recognize a separatist region as a new state without the consent of the country affected sets a dangerous precedent for scores of other territorial conflicts around the world.

The rebels said in a statement published by the Chechenpress Web site that they “welcome the declaration of state independence by Kosovo and do not question the right of the people of Kosovo to distance themselves from the state that terrorized it”.

The statement, signed by Usman Ferzauli, who styles himself Chechen Foreign Minister, said Chechen rebels “have been leading an armed struggle against the world’s most aggressive and militarized power for the latest 14 years”.

This was a reference to mainly Muslim Chechnya’s fight against Russia for independence, which led to two wars in the 1990s, a wave of guerrilla attacks in Moscow, and a brief period of autonomy before Moscow re-established control.

Chechnya is today ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov, a former Chechen warlord who switched sides and pledged allegiance to the Kremlin. The province is mainly calm, although isolated attacks continue.

“The political authority of the Ichkerian Republic (Chechnya) has always aimed, and is aiming today to fight for freedom and independence,” Ferzaulik said in a statement that was issued on Sunday.

Chechenpress (www.chechenpress.info/index.shtml) is a website linked to London-based Chechen rebel leader Ahmed Zakayev.

Writing by Michael Stott; Editing by Samia Nakhoul

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