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Chechen Official Says Met Prominent Separatist Zakayev

Akhmed Zakayev is based in London
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A senior Chechen official said on July 24 he had held talks in Oslo with prominent separatist figure Akhmed Zakayev in an attempt to win his support for the restive Russian province's pro-Kremlin leadership.

Zakayev represents the moderate wing of the separatist movement and has no real influence on insurgents in Chechnya. But any definite statement of support for the Kremlin-backed government would mark a psychological victory for Moscow.

"We met with him and achieved one main goal...the consolidation of Chechen society," the speaker of Chechnya's parliament Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov told Reuters by telephone.

Abdurakhmanov did not say what practical decisions were achieved at the meeting. He declined to comment on media reports that Zakayev would announce his return to the province, which has faced a surge in violence in recent months.

"Zakayev's return is his personal decision, we cannot pressurise him," he said.

Neither Zakayev, nor Chechnya Peace Forum head Ivar Amundsen, who mediated the meeting, could be immediately contacted for comment.

Zakayev, 50, fought Russia as a senior rebel commander in two wars with Moscow in 1994-2000. After Russia regained control of the province, he fled to Europe and acted as an official rebel envoy until 2007.

Russia seeks the extradition of Zakayev, who now lives in London, for 13 alleged crimes including kidnapping and murder. But his extradition request was rejected by a British court in 2003 causing a diplomatic row. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said earlier this month that he would welcome Zakayev's return and possibly offer him a job in the regional culture ministry. But there were no indications Russia was ready to drop charges against him.

Reports about negotiations with Zakayev have appeared as Russia faces a fresh surge of violence in the turbulent Caucasus region. Hit and run attacks on Russian troops and local officials have become more frequent in Chechnya and its neighbours Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Russia has in recent years sought to isolate Islamist rebels, by measures including amnesties and he enlistment of support from moderate opposition leaders.