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Polish police arrest leading Chechen separatist

Polish police arrested Akhmed Zakayev after the leading Chechen separatist arrived in Warsaw to attend a gathering. Russia, which had issued the warrant for Zakayev, had a close eye on whether Poland would arrest him.

Exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev

Zakayev's visit tests Moscow and Warsaw’s improved ties

Polish police said Friday they had arrested Akhmed Zakayev, a leading Chechen separatist in exile, who is wanted by Russia for alleged terrorism.

Police spokesman Mriusz Sokolowski said Poland was responding to an international arrest warrant and had no option but to detain him.

"He was arrested by plainclothes police as he was leaving a building," Sokolowski told TVN24 television.

"Because there was an international arrest warrant, police were under an obligation to detain him and to take him to prosecutors."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed confidence earlier on Thursday that Poland would arrest and extradite Zakayev.

"We drew the attention of our Polish partners to this problem. They took our appeal seriously," he said.

Poland has welcomed Chechens

Zakayev arrived in Poland on Thursday to attend the two-day world Chechen congress, a gathering of exiles from the conflict-torn region.

In Poland, Zakayev spoke about his nation's role in reminding the world about the importance of human rights.

"I would like to express my deepest conviction that it is impossible to achieve real freedom and defend the rights of individuals when the rights and freedoms of whole nations are violated," he said. "The events of the past decade in the Chechen republic have served as a test for all human rights activists and human rights organizations."

A Chechen mother and her son talk at a window in a destroyed flat in Grozny, Chechnya

Chechnya still bears the scars of war while the violence continues

Since his war years, Zakayev has come to represent a moderate wing of the separatist movement. Russia is still fighting against an Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus in Chechnya and in neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Poland has become the prime destination for refugees fleeing the violence in Chechnya over the last two decades. Successive Polish governments have declared their solidarity with the people of the Caucasus and in the 1990s Poland opened the first official Chechen information center in Europe.

More recently, the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski went out of his way to show support for Georgia in its disputes with Russia by making controversial trips to war-torn regions.

Inconvenient timing

Zakayev's visit - and the ensuing pressure from Russia - comes at a sensitive time for Poland. It was Lech Kaczynski's death in a plane crash in Russia earlier this year that began to thaw the traditionally chilly relationship between Warsaw and Moscow.

A woman carries buckets of water at a camp for Chechen refugees

Many Chechen refugees have ended up in Poland, but some have found life difficult there

Asked whether the world Chechen congress could affect Poland's relations with Russia, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that, without compromising its ideals, his cabinet will also look after Polish interests.

But those taking part in the world Chechen congress also have more practical problems on their minds. As Muslims, they are culturally alienated in Roman Catholic Poland. Thousands are suspended in limbo - with no jobs, no available housing and no prospect of moving on to another EU country.

Author: Rafal Kiepuszewski, Holly Fox, Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Rob Turner

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