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Kalashnikovs, kidnap and hope mix on Grozny's streets

Written by: Staff
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GROZNY, Russia, Oct 25 (Reuters) The four bearded men checking drivers' documents in central Grozny, the ruined Chechen capital, held their Kalashnikov rifles with one hand, down by their waists or resting on a shoulder.

Their uniforms -- military boots, combat trousers, T-shirts and baseball caps -- were all black.

''Pull over there,'' they barked with the swagger and confidence of the victor at the approaching Russian military convoy.

These are members of the Kadyrovtsy, a security force controlled by Chechnya's Moscow-backed prime minister and mainly composed of former separatists who fought Russia's military during the southern Russian republic's wars of independence.

The first war between 1994 and 1996 ended when Russia signed a peace treaty handing de facto independence to Chechnya, but Russian President Vladimir Putin as prime minister in 1999 sent the army back to the province.

Now, seven years later, Moscow is keen to show how order has been restored to the troubled republic.

Russian officials say Putin has pursued a policy of outsourcing the fight against separatists to local strongmen and that he wants to reduce Russia's 40,000 soldiers in Chechnya.

And the Kadyrov clan has become his favourite.

But the Kadyrovtsy directing traffic swear allegiance to one man only -- Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kadyrov, 30, became the dominant force after his father President Akhmad Kadyrov, chief Muslim cleric in the separatist leadership who sided with Russia during the second Chechnya war, was killed in a bomb blast in May 2004.

He controls hundreds of personal fighters who, with the Kremlin's blessing, impose order on Chechnya's streets alongside a police force that he, as prime minister, also runs.

''Bandits. Dangerous, uneducated bandits,'' one of the Russian special forces soldiers in the van muttered through his gold front teeth.

But the Russians pulled over -- they were the only people they had stopped for all day.

RIGHTS ABUSES Kadyrovtsy, often young and enthusiastic Muslims, fight the rebels and are credited by Chechens for providing street security beyond the police force.

But human rights groups say they are involved in abduction, extortion and murder.

''We are very concerned about the continued allegations of human rights abuses, of arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances,'' said Amnesty International spokeswoman Victoria Webb.

Kadyrov denies the charges.

More Reuters SAM GC1105

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