Poles arrest Chechen leader

2010-09-17 12:29

Warsaw - Polish police detained an exiled Chechen leader sought by Russia on Friday after he came to Poland to attend a congress of Chechens supporting independence for their North Caucasus region.

Akhmed Zakayev, viewed by Russia as a terrorist but granted political asylum by Britain in 2003, fought Russia as a senior rebel commander in two wars in 1994-2000 but now represents the moderate wing of the separatist movement.

Polish authorities had said they would be bound to arrest Zakayev if he turned up because of an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol, but they signalled he would not necessarily be extradited.

"Mr Zakayev has been detained and sent to the Warsaw prosecutor's office. The role of the police ends here. The court will now take over the case and decide on the next procedure," police spokesperson Mariusz Sokolowski said.

Polish television said Zakayev had been heading to the prosecutor's office to hand himself in when police detained him.

Frosty relations

It quoted Chechens visiting Poland for the two-day congress as saying Zakayev had no intention of hiding from the authorities.

Zakayev visited at an awkward time for Poland, whose efforts to improve long-frosty ties with its communist-era overlord Moscow have gathered pace since the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in Russia in April.

This week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow expected Warsaw to arrest and extradite Zakayev if he turned up.

But Prime Minister Donald Tusk hinted in comments on Thursday that he did not expect Zakayev to be extradited.

Overriding values

Reinforcing that view, Polish Finance Minister Jan Rostowski told Polish radio on Friday: "I can't imagine Zakayev would be handed to Russia... If a Polish court decides to extradite him, the justice minister's agreement is still required."

"There are such things as overriding values," he added.

After their long history of domination by Moscow, both in the 19th century and in communist times, Poles have often shown solidarity with countries or groups in conflict with Russia.

The fact that Zakayev has political asylum in Britain, a partner of Poland in the European Union, would likely weigh against his being extradited, Polish officials say.