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    Military denies shootout in Chechnya with president's convoy

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    KOSTROMA/GROZNY, April 16 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Defense Ministry officially refuted on Wednesday reports of an alleged shootout in Chechnya April 14 involving security convoys of the Chechen president and a commander of the ministry's special battalion.

    Two rival columns of vehicles crashed on Monday on a highway in Gudermes after refusing to give way to each other. Earlier media reports said the traffic accident provoked a shootout between a security convoy of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and 15 or 20 security guards of Sulim Yamadayev, the commander of the Russian Defense Ministry's Vostok special battalion.

    "There was no shootout between the security guards of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and troops of the Defense Ministry's Vostok special battalion. They just 'rattled the saber' and that is why there were no casualties in the skirmish," said Lt. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, who heads the Armed Forces combat training directorate.

    However, the high-ranking military official said it was too early to discuss the details as the circumstances of the incident were still being established.

    Chechnya's Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said earlier that Sulim Yamadayev's brother, Badrudi, is suspected to be the one behind the incident and that law enforcement officers are currently conducting an operation to trace him in the Gudermes district, where the Vostok battalion is stationed.

    In a local television interview, Chechen President Kadyrov accused the Yamadayev brothers of a number of crimes and demanded that they be brought to justice.

    "The Yamadayev brothers are linked to a number of serious crimes, including murders and abductions, as well as the events in the Borozdinovskaya [village]," Kadyrov said.

    Vostok battalion troops conducted a special military operation in the Borozdinovskaya village in the summer of 2005. Four houses were burnt down, 11 people disappeared and a 77-year-old man died as a result of the operation.

    "A criminal must be in a jail. The law is universal for everyone," Kadyrov added.

    Human rights activists and representatives from public organizations drafted a statement Wednesday demanding a full investigation into the alleged shootout and the Borozdinovskaya operation which was sent to the Chechen Military Prosecutor's Office. The statement also called for those responsible in the Vostok battalion to be brought to justice.

    Moscow has significantly scaled down its military presence in Chechnya, since two devastating military campaigns, in 1994-1996 and 1999-2001. But random fighting and terrorist attacks still occur in the area, despite a widely publicized amnesty campaign announced by authorities.

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