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Russia Backs Overthrow Of Rebel Leader in Caucasus

Moscow worries conflict could spread to other trouble spots

IN Chechnya, a rebellious northern Caucasus region of Russia, the Moscow-backed opposition claims to have deposed self-proclaimed President Dzhokar Dudayev. But the former Soviet bomber pilot has called the actions a Kremlin plot designed to spark civil war.

The newly created opposition Provisional Council announced that Mr. Dudayev had been removed in a decree made public on Tuesday. Council leader Umar Avturkhanov named himself the new leader of the region.

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Mr. Avturkhanov said yesterday that he would not use violence against Dudayev. But if Dudayev uses force to keep his post, ``the response would be adequate,'' Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The Kremlin, which along with the West has never recognized Chechnya's independence, said Tuesday it supports the Council. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin called it ``vital for the survival of the Chechen nation,'' but said Moscow would refrain from force to settle the issue, news agencies reported. Yesterday the Russian Defense Ministry denied reports that it had sent troops to Chechnya's border, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

But Dudayev, a former Soviet general who declared the rebel region sovereign following the abortive 1991 Soviet coup, has accused Moscow of planning an invasion to crush Chechen independence on its third anniversary, September 6. The mustachioed politician, who has accused Moscow of instigating several assassination attempts against him, has vowed to remain in power.

Chechnya, for years a thorn in Russia's side, is notorious for its lawlessness, including a hostage seizure by Chechen bandits last week. The Kremlin worries that conflict in the semiautonomous region of 1.2 million could quickly spread, since it borders other ethnic trouble spots in the Caucasus.

Musa Shanibov, president of the militant Confederation of Caucasus Nations, said Ingushetia and Dagestan were willing to aid Chechnya and warned that 12 million Russians would become hostages if any escalation of violence in the north Caucasus developed. Yusup Soslanbekov, president of the another militant group, the Caucasian Peoples' Revival, later announced that every house in Chechnya would become a fortress if Russia invades, Interfax reported.

The Provisional Council's declaration came after the Russian government launched a three-day propaganda blitz against Chechnya. In part, Moscow said Dudayev and his followers had destabilized the region and accused them of decapitating political opponents and displaying their heads publicly.

Dudayev has denied the charges. In an interview Tuesday with Interfax, he called the Council's actions a ``demarche organized by state traitors'' who were in cahoots with the Kremlin to ``stir up a fratricidal war in the north Caucasus.'' Meanwhile, Chechen authorities have said they will seek to arrest Council leader Avturkhanov.

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In an official statement to Russian news agencies, Avturkhanov accused Dudayev of turning Chechnya into a major crime base and bringing the region to ``the brink of economic disaster.'' Avturkhanov said he would seek closer relations with Russia and hold general democratic elections in May or June 1995. ``The absolute majority of the population in all the region's republics support the Provisional Council.''

Earlier, Avturkhanov told Ostankino TV no ``introduction of troops or large-scale attacks from Russia'' would occur. ``We accept no force or pressure, we do not want bloodshed. There will be no civil war,'' he said.

Moscow, for its part, said in a government statement issued Friday it would intervene only if civil violence broke out in Chechnya - apparently implying it would seek to protect ethnic Russians there.

Dudayev's vice president, Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, said Chechnya was ready to repel Russian advances. Reports that Dudayev had been deposed were ``disgusting lies invented by Russian special services'' he said, according to Interfax. Other unconfirmed reports said Dudayev was working as usual in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

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