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Russia ‘dream team’ off to bad start

Officials disagree over plan to search town in Chechnya

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MOSCOW — Two Moscow-appointed Chechen civilian administrators, hailed as a "dream team" by Russia's top commander in the rebel province, got off to a bad start on Tuesday by fighting over who was the boss.

Ten months into the war in Chechnya, Moscow is still battling separatists in the region's southern mountains but has appointed ethnic Chechens to govern Russian-held areas as part of what it calls a political process to end hostilities.

Russian news agencies reported from the region that Bislan Gantamirov, convicted of embezzlement but appointed last week as deputy administrator, had ordered 2,000 men from a militia he controls to search the eastern town of Gudermes for "bandits."

Gudermes is the seat of the top administrator, Akhmad Kadyrov, former spiritual leader of the largely Muslim region, who quickly responded by telling Interfax news agency no "mopping up" operations would take place in the town.

"Gantamirov did not agree (to) this announcement with me and received no approval to carry out such an operation," Kadyrov was quoted as saying.

The Russian military and the Kremlin said Gantamirov had no authority to order the operation in which soldiers go from house to house to root out guerrillas.

Following talks between the two, Interfax quoted Gantamirov as saying he did not agree with a series of dismissals in the local administration ordered by Kadyrov.

"We are people who fought our way from the border of (neighboring region) Ingushetia to Grozny, and we won't be bossed around by Kadyrov and his gang," he said. "We have the forces and means (to ensure) this."

During the 1994-96 Chechen war in which Moscow was defeated, Gantamirov was made mayor of the regional capital Grozny, but was later imprisoned for stealing reconstruction funds.

He was let out of jail at the start of the current war and put in charge of a Chechen militia supporting Russian troops advancing into Chechnya.

The row between Gantamirov and Kadyrov could embarrass Moscow. Gennady Troshev, the top Russian general in Chechnya, hailed Gantamirov's appointment last week as the creation of a "dream team" for the province's civilian administration.

At the time of his appointment, Russia said he would be in charge of Chechen security forces, but did not specify what this meant.

Elsewhere in Chechnya, rebel and Russian sources reported overnight gunfights at checkpoints. Russia's military said its fighter jets had flown nine combat missions against rebel targets.

A Reuters Television reporter went to the southern village of Agishty on Sunday, soon after Russian troops bombarded it with shells killing six civilians and injuring around 20.

Shocked residents mourned for lost relatives among the rubble of shrapnel-damaged houses.

"Who will deal with this? Who will be punished for this?" said Khasan Umalatov, sitting next to the corpses of his two cousins. "By doing this they make us take up arms and go and kill them the same way."