| The State Duma on Wednesday gave preliminary approval
Vladimir Putin's proposed amnesty for Chechen rebels who have committed
grave crimes and agree to lay down their arms. The bill also covers
servicemen who have committed crimes in Chechnya.
The Kremlin portrays the amnesty as a second major move toward
after the March referendum to approve a Chechen constitution.
say it will have little effect other than to absolve robbers and
After heated debate, the bill passed 354-18 on Wednesday evening
the first of the three required readings.
It offers amnesty to rebels and servicemen who "jeopardized
safety" in Chechnya and Ingushetia from Dec. 12, 1993, when
Russian military offensive in Chechnya began, to Sept. 1, 2003,
deadline for rebels to lay down their arms.
Those guilty of murder, rape, kidnapping, trafficking in people
threatening or attempting to kill policemen are not eligible (while
who attempted to kill soldiers are). Foreign citizens fighting
rebels also are not eligible for amnesty.
"There will be no amnesty for terrorists, also," Alexander
Putin's envoy to the Duma, said in presenting the bill.
The amnesty would immediately free 90 percent of the 300 servicemen
convicted or waiting trial for non-grave crimes in Chechnya, Kotenkov
The number of freed rebels would be about the same, he said.
The Yabloko faction opposed the bill. An amnesty will not contribute
to peace in Chechnya until the rampant mopping-up operations that
federal troops conduct in Chechen villages are drastically limited
and Chechen borders are effectively sealed so hardened rebels
cannot escape, said Alexei
Arbatov, the faction's point man on the bill.
"Also, the bill refers to crimes that have no relation
to the conflict
in Chechnya," he said before the vote. "Amnesty is offered
not to those who
fought against Russia, but to people who tried to pursue their
benefits in this fight."
Arbatov said amnesty would become a viable initiative only if
pursues it within a broader peace plan developed together with
All 17 members of the Yabloko faction would vote against the
Sergei Kovalyov, a prominent human rights activist, who described
amnesty as another Kremlin move to get control over the republic,
he would vote against it.
It was not clear Wednesday which 18 deputies had voted against
bill or who were the four who abstained.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, deputy speaker from the Liberal Democratic
Party, said the proposed amnesty would not work.
"Imagine a young Chechen man who took up arms 10 years
ago and hid in
the forest all this time. Now you want him to trust us that we
that he hasn't killed anybody during this time," Zhirinovsky
amnesty is a sham; nobody will trust it."
Fellow LDPR Deputy Yevgeny Loginov, however, opposed the amnesty
because it would allow Chechen rebels to go free. He said this
would be an
act of betrayal against Russian troops who died or were wounded
His remarks angered Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative
the Duma. "Shut up, you bastard. I'll tear you apart,"
he shouted to Loginov
across the Duma hall.
The Duma passed an earlier amnesty, in December 1999, just a
months after the second military campaign began. As a result,
turned in their weapons, said Pavel Krashenninikov, the head of
legislative committee who was then the justice minister.
According to Aslakhanov, most of them were either killed by
taking revenge or prosecuted anyway. "Only those who left
Russia or joined
the guard of Akhmad Kadyrov [the Kremlin-appointed head of the
administration] survived," he said.
This time, Krashenninikov said, there will be provisions to
amnestied rebels from subsequent prosecution. He called on deputies
support the amnesty.
Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the Duma's international relations
committee, harshly criticized the bill for not preventing amnestied
from joining Chechen police forces.
"Rebels may nicely give themselves up to police, then join
same police force or other armed agencies, and one day we will
wake up in
Chechnya and see it is another country," he said.
Aslakhanov said no one should expect any improvement in Chechnya
the amnesty is declared. "The amnesty will have no influence
activity, and Chechens will regard it with caution," he said.
Putin submitted the amnesty bill to the Duma on May 12 and urged
deputies to pass it quickly. The urgency was seen as reflecting
desire to show progress toward peace in Chechnya at next week's
The Duma had talked about approving the bill Wednesday in all
readings, but decided to allow time for deputies to offer amendments.
second reading was set for June 2 and the third on June 6, at
the original at