Russian Forces Condemned For ‘Gross Abuses’ in Chechnya
NAZRAN, Russia (AP) _ An international human rights group accused Russian troops in Chechnya today of torturing prisoners and attacking civilians.
The charges by Human Rights Watch-Helsinki came as Russia’s human rights commissioner was preparing his own investigation of alleged atrocities.
Chechen forces have been blamed for some abuses. A presidential commission today accused the Chechens of mutilating Russian prisoners and denied that Moscow’s forces have tortured or killed Chechen prisoners.
The denial conflicts with the accounts of Chechen prisoners and numerous independent reports, including that of Human Rights Watch-Helsinki.
The researchers themselves were detained at gunpoint by Russian troops in Grozny when they visited the Chechen capital this month, Christopher Panico, one of the report’s authors, said at a Moscow news conference. Film, tapes and maps were confiscated, he said.
``Russian forces continue to use disproportionate force to dislodge Chechen fighters from villages. Undisciplined Russian soldiers attack civilians, systematically loot civilian property and rob individual civilians,″ the report said.
The war, which began Dec. 11 when Russian forces stormed into Chechnya to suppress the region’s claim to independence, shows no signs of ending. Russia’s human rights chief, Sergei Kovalyov, has estimated 24,000 civilians have been killed. Kovalyov was to meet today with Chechen prisoners at Russia’s war base in Mozdok, 80 miles northwest of Grozny, in North Ossetia.
``Because of a lack of well-trained elite troops, Russian forces rely heavily on artillery attacks and air bombardments. Often these artillery attacks are not guided by an observer,″ Panico said. ``This leads to excessive destruction of civilian property and extensive casualties.″
The report said Russian Interior Ministry officials had acknowledged ``looting, extortion and outrages″ by soldiers and had urged them in a statement this month not to ``mete out mob law or even law and order.″
One Grozny refugee interviewed by Human Rights Watch-Helsinki was quoted as saying hordes of Russian young soldiers had broken into homes and taken food, televisions and other items.
At another news conference, the chairman of a presidential commission on POWs said Chechens had disfigured Russian prisoners with knives and other metal items.
``We still can’t identify some 100 soldiers’ bodies because they were mutilated,″ retired Col. Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov said.
A member of the commission, police Gen. Yuri Kalinin, said Russian troops detained several hundred Chechen prisoners in Mozdok and Grozny. He said 11 died but all were killed when Chechens shelled the Russian trucks they were riding in.
``There hasn’t been a single case of shooting or tormenting those detained,″ Kalinin said.