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Chechen Leader Makes New Call For Exiles To Return

Ramzan Kadyrov
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has issued a new invitation to leading exiles to return home, promising them a "decent" life in Russia's North Caucasus province.

London-based Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev this month spurned an earlier invitation by Kadyrov to come back, saying his life would be at risk from Russian government agents, even if Kadyrov was sincere.

But Kadyrov, himself a former rebel fighter who switched sides, and became regional leader with the Kremlin's support, reiterated his invitation.

"If they [exiles] return, they will live a decent life," he told journalists. "They will observe their customs and religion. Otherwise, they will continue to be a bunch of nobodies in Europe...I do not want it to be this way."

Zakayev, accused in Russia of 13 alleged crimes including kidnapping and murder, told Reuters this month he would only go home when Russia and Chechnya respected a 1997 peace accord.

Then-president Boris Yeltsin said the deal was intended to bury centuries of conflict between Russians and Chechens. But both sides failed to flesh it out with concrete measures.

London has rejected Moscow's calls to extradite Zakayev after a British court ruled he would not face a fair trial in Russia.