WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish police detained an exiled Chechen leader wanted by Russia on Friday at a congress of activists seeking the region’s independence from Moscow, but a court later ordered him freed.
Warsaw had indicated it was unlikely to extradite Akhmed Zakayev, viewed by Moscow as a terrorist but granted political asylum by Britain in 2003, even though this may harm a steady improvement in long-frosty ties between Russia and Poland.
“Poland is another country that I can visit freely,” Zakayev told reporters after his release from detention on an international arrest warrant. “I will attend the Chechen congress in Pultusk.”
Polish authorities said they were bound to arrest Zakayev because of an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol. Zakayev fought against Russia as a senior rebel commander in two wars between 1994-2000 but now represents the moderate wing of the separatist movement.
Moscow had handed over to Warsaw material supporting Zakayev’s extradition, Russia’s chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika told his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Seremet on Friday.
Zakayev said he had no intention of evading justice.
“It hadn’t crossed our minds that we should abandon this enterprise (the congress) and that the Poles, who have always supported us, would turn their backs on us,” Zakayev told daily Rzeczpospolita on Friday before his detention.
“We are organizing the congress to set up an international forum to speak about our drama... (We want) international support for Chechen-Russian talks. In the future we also want an International Tribunal on Chechnya to be established.”
The European Union said it was analyzing Zakayev’s case.
“In general, once a third-country national is granted asylum and international protection in a member state, his situation is equal...to the one of the citizens of the member state who is granting asylum,” said European Commission spokeswoman, Michele Cercone.
Politicians in Europe and the United States have condemned Chechen rebel violence but many are sympathetic to their independence cause. The West is also critical of Moscow’s patchy human rights record and heavy-handed tactics in the region.
Zakayev’s visit comes at an awkward time for Poland, whose efforts to improve strained relations with its communist-era overlord Moscow have gathered pace since the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in Russia in April.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he did not expect Zakayev to be extradited.
“According to international law, Poland must undertake some actions in this regard, but that does not mean we will be fulfilling Russia’s wishes,” he told Polish radio.
Additional reporting by Adrian Krajewski and Dagmara Leszkowicz in Warsaw, David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Steven Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Charles Dick