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Chechen leader confirmed dead

Dudayev

Supporter says freedom fight unaffected

April 24, 1996
Web posted at: 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- A top rebel field commander interrupted Chechen television broadcasts late Tuesday and announced the death of rebel leader Dzhokar Dudayev.

Shamil Basayev, one of Dudayev's closest colleagues, proclaimed a three-day mourning period and said without elaboration that a new leader is in charge of the breakaway republic.

Basayev's announcement seems to resolve conflicting reports about Dudayev's death.

Itar-Tass news agency reported early Tuesday that the Chechen leader was killed in a Russian missile attack in southwestern Chechnya. Interfax news agency disputed the report.

However, Interfax now quotes Chechen officials as confirming his death.

Dudayev, a 52-year-old former Soviet air force general, unilaterally declared Chechen independence in 1991 after he was chosen president. The separatist leader topped Russia's most-wanted list.

Chechnya map

Vagap Tutakov, Dudayev's representative in Moscow, told Interfax that even though Dudayev is dead, his cause isn't.

"The struggle will be continued with tripled energy," Tutakov said. "Supporters of the president of (Chechnya) have vowed to avenge his death."

A Russian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Interfax that Russian authorities had confirmed Dudayev's death, although they had made no public statement.

Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who has vowed never to give in to Chechen independence, somewhat downplayed the reports of Dudayev's death.

"With or without Dudayev, we will wind up everything in Chechnya with peace," he told Reuters news service. "We must be on the alert, as the rebels may intensify their activity."

In March, Chechen rebels received another serious blow when Dudayev's son-in-law, Salman Raduyev, was killed in battle. Raduyev, a bearded fanatical Chechen commander, led a group of rebels on a hostage-taking raid in southern Russia in January and had vowed to fight Russian forces for 10 more years.

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