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Chechen convicted of video murders

Chechen convicted of video murders

NALCHIK, Russia -- A Chechen rebel has been sentenced to life in prison for numerous crimes, including torture and killing Russian servicemen.

Salaudin Temirbulatov was convicted of killing Russian servicemen, forming and participating in illegal armed groups, kidnapping, torture and illegal weapons possession.

The case centred on the killings of three Russian servicemen whose deaths were recorded on a graphic video subsequently released to Western media. Temirbulatov served in the rebel government of the breakaway republic when the murders were committed in 1996. He was arrested in March 2000 in Chechnya.

Judge Mukhamed Olmezov said Temirbulatov was "exceptionally dangerous for society" and that he "deserves the death penalty."

But citing a decision by Russia's Constitutional Court that only juries can impose the death penalty, Olmezov sentenced Temirbulatov to life in prison.

The execution of three Russian servicemen was recorded on video, and Russian authorities repeatedly showed the graphic footage to back up their case against the Chechen rebels.

The video shows a man prosecutors said was Temirbulatov shooting a Russian serviceman at point-blank range.

The Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria, a southern Russian region near Chechnya, heard Temirbulatov was complicit in the murder of the other two servicemen, as well as a third whose execution was not recorded but whose body was found at the scene.

The court also said Temirbulatov had kidnapped Russian servicemen as recently as last year.

Temirbulatov showed no emotion as he stood listening to the verdict, which took two hours to read.

His lawyer, Talkhat Duduyev, said he would appeal to Russia's Supreme Court.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's chief spokesman on the war, hailed the decision.

"He was the first of the so-called field commanders to be put on trial and whose guilt of murdering Russian servicemen ... has been proven," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

The European Union told Russia on Thursday that a political solution must be found to the conflict in Chechnya.

Foreign Minister Anna Lindh of Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also said during a visit to Moscow that accusations of crimes against human rights in Chechnya must be thoroughly examined.

"The conflict in Chechnya has led to great hardship and suffering for the civilian population. A political solution is the only way to lasting peace to this part of Russia," she said at an EU-Russia seminar in Moscow.

Russia said it had begun plans for long-awaited cutbacks of its troops in Chechnya, but gave few details.

Valery Manilov, first deputy chief of Russia's general staff, told Itar-Tass news agency: "A plan and schedule for withdrawing extra military units from Chechnya has been worked out and those who will implement it."

Russian troops poured into Chechnya in late 1999 to quell an uprising by separatist guerillas.

Russia first announced that the military phase of the conflict was over last March and promised deep cutbacks of troops. But 80,000 Russian troops have remained, from a force of about 100,000 at the peak of the fighting.

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