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Russian Parliament Approves Limited Chechen Amnesty

The plan cleared the State Duma in Moscow by a vote of 352 to 25 with one abstention. Under the measure, rebel fighters who hand in their weapons or renounce militant separatism by Sept. 1 will be pardoned of any future legal prosecution.

The amnesty does not extend to foreigners or fighters who are found to have committed serious violent crimes such as premeditated murder, hostage-taking or rape or those who attempted to kill federal police or servicemen.

The measure also applies to an estimated 200 Russian soldiers, some of whom are in prison in Chechnya for abuses allegedly committed while searching for separatist fighters, as well as nearly 200 Chechen fighters currently serving prison terms or awaiting trial, according to the Interfax news agency.

“We are giving a chance to those who committed no serious crimes and found themselves on the other side of the barricade — for money, out of deception, or simply because of an error,” Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told a news conference on the amnesty plan.

The Kremlin has long refused to negotiate with Chechen fighters, but drafted the amnesty plan as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s package of measures aimed at fueling the region’s recovery.

Putin’s plan began with a referendum in March that led to the approval of a draft constitution for the republic and cemented Chechnya’s place as part of the Russian Federation.

But some lawmakers and Russian citizens are skeptical that the plan will have any significant effect in the Chechnya region, where fighters have been entrenched in a bitter battle for independence from Moscow for more than a decade.

One opponent of the plan, lawmaker Sergei Mitrokhin of the liberal Yabloko party, said the measure would only add to the region’s violence.

“The amnesty will not make anyone give up their weapons,” Mitrokhin said, according to Reuters. “In current conditions, an amnesty is just a useless PR stunt.”

“This amnesty will not achieve the result that we would like to achieve,” Aslambek Aslakhanov, a deputy elected from Chechnya, said Thursday, according to the Moscow Times. “The idea is for members of illegal armed formations to disarm, and this will not happen. There is no mechanism for their protection.”

But the pro-Moscow administrator in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, said that he would personally work to guarantee the safety of all those who decide to lay down their arms under the amnesty deal.

“I am determined to make use for this purpose all my authority as former spiritual leader of Chechnya and as incumbent head of the republic,” Kadyrov said Wednesday, according to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

“We have worked incessantly on the instruments for the implementation of the amnesty over the past three years, since it is a very serious and responsible step in the life of the republic. We have considered every possibility to return the members of illegal armed groups to peaceful life, to give them jobs,” Kadyrov said.

The amnesty plan’s adoption comes one day after a female suicide bomber detonated an explosive near a bus carrying workers from a Russian air base in North Ossetia, just over the border from Chechnya, killing at least 20 people.

Thursday’s bombing is the latest in a string of attacks aimed toward Russian government buildings, key officials or military vehicles in the region. Two other suicide bombings in a three-day period in Chechnya last month killed at least 78 people.

Russian officials have made previous amnesty offers in the Chechen conflict. One plan was approved in 1997 to offer amnesty for fighters involved in the first Chechen war, which lasted from 1994 to 1996, and another short window was enacted from December 1999 to May 2000.

According to official Moscow figures, some 2,500 militants laid down their arms during these amnesties and another 750 members of so-called illegal armed groups were released from potential prosecution.

A poll conducted by the Interfax news agency found that of some 1,500 Russian citizens in urban and rural areas, 46 percent disapproved of the amnesty plan and another 38 percent felt that nothing would change as a result of the measure.

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