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Russia Probes Atrocities Charges

February 25, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian authorities opened an investigation today into broadcast footage that suggested Russian troops have committed atrocities against Chechens during the war in the breakaway republic.

The film, supplied by the German television station N24, showed a pile of men’s bodies in a ditch. The men’s ankles were bound with wire, and at least one of the bodies was missing an ear. It also showed soldiers pushing a body wrapped in a blanket off a Russian armored vehicle, and a military truck dragging a dead man across a field.

Russian TV channels broadcast part of the film today.

N-24 chief editor Florian Martius said the footage was shot by its reporter Frank Hoefling in Chechnya. The station ``feels sure there were atrocities committed, but from the pictures themselves no one can say who did it.″

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, chief presidential spokesman on Chechnya, told the news agency Interfax that the footage was actually taken by a correspondent for the newspaper Izvestia and that Hoefling was not at the scene.

Interfax also cited an Izvestia spokesman as saying that the tape showed rebels who had been killed in battles with Russian troops.

Russia’s chief military prosecutor, Yuri Dyomin, said today that he had taken personal control over the investigation into the footage. He added that previous allegations of atrocities by the federal troops had not been proven.

``As a rule, the major part of this information, especially that provided by the Western media, has failed to be confirmed,″ Dyomin, said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Other Russian officials dismissed the footage as ``propaganda″ and ``a falsification.″

``The authors of the TV report carried out a political order,″ said Oleg Aksyonov, spokesman for Russia’s Interior Ministry, according to the Interfax news agency. He added that ``elementary logic suggests that if a crime were committed, video recording was unlikely to be permitted.″

He said the tape actually showed the burial of rebels killed in combat.

Russia’s human rights commissioner, Oleg Mironov, called the tape ``another propaganda trick by the rebels.″

``In the present situation, when the operations of Russian troops in Chechnya are under unremitting control, hardly anyone would risk committing the unlawful acts shown on the tape,″ Interfax quoted him as saying.

It was unclear just what control he was referring to. The Russian authorities have so far made Chechnya off-limits to Russian and foreign human rights groups, and they have tried to heavily restrict journalists’ movements.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, has requested permission to visit Chechnya. He met today with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the newly appointed human rights commissioner for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov, and Mironov.

Gil-Robles is to go to Chechnya on Monday.

The Russians and the Chechens have regularly traded accusations of barbarity, with each side claiming the other’s fighters are torturing and mutilating their opponents. The two sides have also accused each other of mistreating civilians, using them as human shields, looting their property and summarily executing them.

Foreign governments have concentrated their criticism on Russian treatment of civilians. They have protested alleged war crimes, including three civilian massacres documented by international human rights groups and the alleged torture of Chechen detainees.

Moscow has angrily denied the allegations.

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