Russian media had earlier reported on Tuesday that ousted Chechen President Maskhadov was killed by troops in Chechnya.

 

Interfax news agency quoted army spokesman Ilya Shabalkin as saying Maskhadov had been killed by Russian troops.

 

Russian television stations aired pictures of a bearded corpse they said were of Maskhadov.

   

His death would mark a major success for President Vladimir Putin, who built his power largely on a tough line against the Chechen resistance fighters.

 

Moscow blames Maskhadov for a string of deadly attacks in Russia, including an attack on a school in the south Russian town of Beslan in which at least 326 hostages - half of them children - died.

 

However, Maskhadov had rejected through his representative in Europe claims he helped plan the Beslan school siege.

 

Ahmed Zakayev, former Chechen deputy prime minister, told Der Spiegel news magazine Maskhadov had in fact tried to do everything to bring the siege to a peaceful end.

 

Recently, Maskhadov had called for talks with Moscow on the

Chechens' demands for independence, but the Kremlin insisted it would not "negotiate with terrorists".