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Chechnya: Russian Head Of PACE Delegation Resigns; Britain Pursues Zakaev

Moscow, 31 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Dmitri Rogozin, the head of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly (PACE), said today he is resigning as co-chairman of the Russia-PACE commission on Chechnya. The announcement came one day after the PACE co-chairman of the commission, Frank Judd, threatened to resign if a referendum on a new Chechen Constitution goes ahead as planned.

Judd says the referendum set for 23 March should be delayed because of security concerns in Chechnya and persistent questions over the voting rights of thousands of Chechens who fled the war in Russia's breakaway republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said today he is determined to push through with the March referendum. He said the initiative of the referendum came from the Chechens themselves.

Rogozin, who is also head of the International Affairs Committee at Russia's State Duma, said Russian cooperation with PACE on Chechnya would continue, but only if PACE replaced its representatives in the joint commission.

In London today, Britain's Home Office (Interior Ministry) authorized the start of extradition proceedings against Akhmed Zakaev, a Chechen separatist the Russian government accuses of involvement in terrorism.

But a judge in a London court today allowed Zakaev, an envoy for Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov, to remain free on bail until the next hearing. The court -- which can block the government decision -- will set a timetable for the extradition process on 14 February.

Zakaev arrived in Britain from Denmark, where authorities freed him after nearly five weeks of detention. Danish authorities concluded the Russian evidence presented against him was insufficient to warrant extradition.