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We're not a part of Russia, insists Chechen leader

The president of Chechnya, in the strongest language in months, has flatly ruled out the possibility of his breakaway region staying a part of Russia, Interfax news agency said on Tuesday.

Chechen leaders insist the region is fully independent, while the Kremlin still considers Chechnya a member of the vast Russian Federation."Never in my life will I put my signature under a document, assuming dependence on Russia, regardless of the form in which it is expressed," Interfax quoted President Aslan Maskhadov as saying.

"No one in Ichkeria (as Chechens call Chechnya) will allow me to do this."

He ruled out a treaty between Russia and Chechnya that would give Chechnya the status of a freely associated member of the Russian Federation or a territory with maximum independence.

Tens of thousands people died during Moscow's military campaign in 1994-96 to quell Chechnya's independence bid.

The unpopular war ended in a peace deal signed in August 1996, which effectively left the region outside Russia's control but failed to resolve the issue of Chechnya's future political status.

Under the peace deal, the final decision on Chechnya's future political status is to be taken by 2001.

Russian and Chechen officials have held lengthy and difficult negotiations to try to draw up an acceptable deal.

But it was the first time in months Maskhadov has spoken so forcefully against any kind of accommodation with Russia.

Even during a spat last month over harsh rhetoric from Russia's hawkish interior minister Maskhadov did not voice his views on independence so unequivocally.