Chechen rebel leader Dzhokar Dudayev had been killed, said one Russian news agency. No, said another - he’s alive. Either way, there was no doubt Tuesday that Dudayev still represented trouble for the Kremlin.
ITAR-Tass, the official Russian news agency, said Dudayev, 52, died Sunday in a Russian airstrike in southwest Chechnya. But another agency disputed the report, and top officials could not confirm it.
If alive, Dudayev remains a rallying point for Chechens who bitterly oppose Russian rule. If he is dead, his fighters could splinter, making negotiations even tougher than they are now.
ITAR-Tass said a Dudayev representative released a statement in Grozny, the Chechen capital, announcing Dudayev’s death. It said his funeral would be today.
“Dudayev’s been killed,” KhozhAkhmed Yarikhanov, a former Dudayev peace negotiator who said he’d seen the body, was quoted as saying. “There’s no doubt about it.”
But no one in the Russian government could confirm the report and the Interfax news agency quoted several other Chechen officials as saying it was untrue.
“Dudayev is alive and working as usual,” Saipudi Khasanov, identified as a private secretary to Dudayev, was quoted as saying.
In Istanbul, a Dudayev aide said he had spoken to the Chechen leader on the telephone Tuesday. Khasan Khazouyev told reporters Dudayev vowed to “continue our fight until there isn’t a single Russian soldier left in Chechnya.”
ITAR-Tass said Dudayev was wounded Sunday in a Russian airstrike when he walked into an open field to make a call on his satellite telephone.
He died later that night, it said, quoting the statement.