Rival accuses pro-Kremlin Chechen leader of murder

GUDERMES, Russia (Reuters) - A Chechen warlord on Thursday accused the Russian region’s pro-Kremlin leader of killing his brother and vowed to take revenge, pitching the two most powerful men in Chechnya against each other.

Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied any role in the shooting.

About 70 to 80 men -- mainly family members and loyal fighters -- attended the funeral of Ruslan Yamadayev in the town of Gudermes east of the Chechen capital Grozny.

Gunmen killed the former parliamentary deputy as he drove through the center of Moscow Wednesday evening.

“I accuse Ramzan Kadyrov of the murder of my brother Ruslan and I promise to take revenge after the end of the holy month of Ramadan,” Sulim Yamadayev said.

One Yamadayev loyalist watching the funeral was downbeat.

“Nothing good will come of this,” he said of the murder, as he gripped his Kalashnikov rifle.

“We now wait for serious consequences.”

Yamadayev commanded the Vostok battalion in last month’s war between Russia and Georgia. The Vostok battalion is made up mainly of about 600 Chechens and is one of the most battle-hardened units in the Russian army.

Kadyrov is backed by the Kremlin and commands most of the 20,000 former rebel Chechen fighters in the region. He and Sulim Yamadayev are both former rebels turned arch-rivals and their fighters faced each other in a tense standoff earlier this year.

Kadyrov later denied he had ordered the murder of Ruslan Yamadayev.

“I’ll answer anybody who accuses me of murder,” he told Russian television. “Kadyrov does not kill people.”

Russian forces fought two wars against Chechen rebels from 1994 and the Kremlin has mainly managed to pacify the region by enrolling loyal Chechens.

Just before the August 7 start of the Georgia-Russia war, Kadyrov succeeded in persuading the Russian Prosecutor-General to put out an arrest warrant for Sulim Yamadayev for murder.

Success in the war, though, revived Sulim Yamadayev’s reputation and the arrest warrant was quietly dropped.

Writing by James Kilner in Moscow