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Russian chief admits Chechnya 'crimes'

Chechen Zelimkhan Muskhanov says he was beaten by soldiers in the village of Voikovo
Chechen Zelimkhan Muskhanov says he was beaten by soldiers in the village of Voikovo  

MOSCOW, Russia -- A Russian military chief has admitted that his troops carried out "widespread crimes" in search operations in Chechnya, according to Russian agencies.

General Vladimir Moltenskoi, quoted by Itar-Tass, said the military was now trying to restore confidence in the area, while a Kremlin spokesman was quoted as saying that Moscow may have to change tactics in Chechnya.

A criminal investigation has been launched into the mass detentions which took place in the villages of Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk, the daily Vremya Novostei said.

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The paper said male villagers were forced into a field and beaten by Russian forces, with some released only after paying off soldiers.

The Associated Press said Moltenskoi had vowed to tell troops to rebuild the ravaged houses and provide the population with food as compensation for their actions.

NTV television showed footage of ransacked rooms at a school in Assinovskaya and interviewed a nurse who said soldiers had rampaged through a hospital and seized a patient.

Tass said Moltenskoi, addressing senior officers at Russia's main base in Chechnya, spoke of "widespread crimes in carrying out passport checks in Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk."

News reports said more than 200 complaints had been made and that the general had ordered commanders to deal quickly with them.

"Those who conducted searches in Sernovodsk and Assinovskaya did so in lawless fashion, laying the place to waste and then pretending they knew nothing about it," Tass quoted him as saying.

However, Moltenskoi later seemed to backtrack slightly, saying on RTR television: "I cannot speak about crimes, per se, but about violations on the level of the soldier or policeman in the ranks. Everything was planned correctly and carried out properly. Some violations were committed."

Last week, Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said troops had acted according to guidelines during the search operation, which was sparked by an attack on a police car, according to Reuters. AP said the operation was mounted after five Russian police officers were killed by a land mine planted by rebels.

On Wednesday, the Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said large-scale search operations had proved ineffective.

"Evidently, the very practice of sweep operations should undergo certain changes or gradually become a thing of the past," he told RTR state television.

Yastrzhembsky suggested "pinpoint operations" like that which resulted in the killing last month of prominent rebel chief Arbi Barayev, were more effective.

President Vladimir Putin's emissary to Chechnya, Viktor Kazantsev, pledged an inquiry into the village searches would be completed by the weekend and said he had apologised to pro-Moscow heads of local administrations in the two areas.

At least two local leaders initially resigned in protest at the search operation, but news reports said Kazantsev had persuaded them to stay on.

Aslanbek, a 19-year-old resident of Sernovodsk, told the AP that during the searches Russian troops kept him and other villagers on their knees for eight hours in an open field, their hands tied over their heads with their shirts.

He said he and several others were later put in a pit. "Russian police officers threw cigarette butts at us, and one of them urinated on us," said Aslanbek, who asked that his last name be withheld.

"Hey, Chechen, where is your pride," he recalled one policeman saying.

AP said the raids prompted thousands of Chechens to flee to refugee camps in neighbouring Ingushetia.

Lt. Ali Ozdoyev, a police officer in charge of a checkpoint on the regional border, told the agency on Wednesday that the daily flow of refugees from Chechnya had almost doubled in recent days to about 2,000.

On Tuesday, a European watchdog on torture reprimanded Russia for its failure to respond to human rights violations in Chechnya.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture said its recent visits to Chechnya "strongly indicate that many persons were physically ill-treated" and that several cases were documented with medical evidence.

It said Russia had contravened treaty obligations that required the nation to report its efforts in investigating human rights abuses and in bringing to justice those responsible. The CPT maintained violations had been recurrent throughout the 22-month-old war.

Moscow denied all the allegations and said it would not comply with a CPT-recommended independent inquiry into the mishandling of civilians at the Chernokozovo detention centre, where it is suspected detainees were tortured from December 1999 to February 2000.

Russia refutes the existence of the centre altogether, a statement the CPT said was "clearly untenable."Russian troops are trying to restore Moscow's control over the breakaway region, which declared itself independent during the 1994-96 war.

Federal forces went back into Chechnya in September 1999 after rebels based there attacked a neighbouring region, and after apartment bombings blamed on Chechen terrorists killed some 300 people.

• Council of Europe
• The Russian government
• Chechen Republic Online

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