The Moscow-backed government of Chechnya, fighting to retain control of the republic against a separatist insurgency, on Saturday welcomed a Russian decree that rebels who surrender their weapons in the year-old war may be granted amnesty.

"Those who are not directly linked to the bloodshed will be protected and freed from responsibility," said Doku Zavgayev, the Russian-appointed administrator of Chechnya. The decree, he said, "starts a new stage in the settlement of the situation of our republic."But ardent Chechen separatists seem unlikely to relinquish their guns, especially now - just two weeks before controversial parliamentary elections across Russia. Their leader-in-exile, ousted President Dzhokar M. Dudayev, has vowed to disrupt the elections and launch a new initiative against the hated Russian garrison in Chechnya.

Taking Dudayev's vows of violence seriously, the Russian commander of troops in Chechnya warned in a newspaper interview that the conflict might spill outside Chechnya's borders and into the Russian heartland.

Indeed, in a bizarre incident late Friday night, a band of rebels briefly seized a television station just across the Chechen border, near the village of Novolakskaya. The Interfax news service reported that the gunmen left as swiftly as they arrived, offering no explanation and issuing no demands.

"It's not at all clear why the soldiers came to the television tower," a law enforcement spokesman told the radio station Echo Moscow. "But I wouldn't rule out that they just came here to rest, because the boss here is a Chechen."

Meanwhile, the fate of Chechnya's pro-Moscow education minister, who was reportedly kidnapped last week, remained unclear. Itar-Tass reported that Dudayev's representatives had denied involvement.

The war in Chechnya has claimed at least 20,000 lives. More than 5,000 refugees have sought safety in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia, Interfax reported Saturday.