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Thu Sep 9

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechen rebels, in a swift reply to a Russian bounty offer for their leaders, promised on Thursday to give $20 million to anyone helping them to capture President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites).

On Wednesday the government offered $10 million for information that would help track down the two main Chechen leaders, Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev.

"We offer an award of $20 million to countries, organizations or individuals who give the Chechen republic active help in detaining the war criminal Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," said a statement on rebel Web sites.

It was signed by "the anti-terrorist center of the Chechen Republic," part of Maskhadov's unrecognized government.

The statement accuses Putin of launching war against Chechnya (news - web sites) and of being responsible for the school siege in the town of Beslan last week, when at least 326 people died in a battle as Russian forces moved in to free the 1,000 hostages.

"Putin is blamed for ... many planned actions to discredit the lawful national liberation struggle of the Chechen people against foreign aggression, including the organization of the bloody war against children and adults in Beslan," it said.

Maskhadov, a relative moderate among Chechen separatists who have been fighting Russia for 10 years, has denied involvement in the hostage-taking. Basayev is yet to comment, but experts say the attack showed all the signs of his leadership.

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