Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 72

The bodies of seventeen Chechens were discovered on April 10 in the basement of a police building in Djohar’s [Grozny’s] Oktyabrskoe district. The victims, who were reportedly middle-aged males and have not yet been identified, were apparently killed some six months ago. Djohar Mayor Bislan Gantamirov claimed in an interview that the victims were civilians who were murdered by members of an OMON police commando unit from Siberia’s Khanty-Mansiisk region who were stationed in the Oktyabrskoe district until recently. Gantamirov said it was possible that more mass graves would be found at the site (Radio Liberty, Kommersant, April 10).

It is interesting to note that Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, initially confirmed the discovery of the mass grave but retracted his confirmation several hours later. Kazantsev said he had ordered the law enforcement authorities in Chechnya to check the report and that by the evening of April 10 was informed by both the military authorities in Chechnya and the heads of the republic’s law enforcement bodies that they had gone to the cite and that no bodies had been found there. Yesterday (April 11), Gantamirov said that he was “compelled to believe” Kazantsev’s retraction. Two human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Memorial, however, have called on the Russian authorities to carry out a careful investigation into the reports concerning the discovery of the mass grave (Russian agencies, April 10-11; Radio Liberty, April 11).

The skepticism of the human rights groups is understandable given the discovery last month of a mass grave containing the bodies of some fifty civilians, including women, not from the Russian military base at Khankala, just outside Djohar. At that time the Russian authorities also tried to deny that a mass grave had been found, but Memorial presented convincing evidence of the mass grave’s existence, including video tapes and photographs, some of which showed obvious signs of torture on some of the bodies (see the Monitor, March 7 and 20).

Meanwhile, the Russian military says it has discovered documents signed by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov revealing plans to launch new military actions. According to the official Itar-Tass news agency, Maskhadov ordered his forces to begin work reactivate weapons caches, bunkers, support bases in the forests, activate new fighters from reserve forces and ready them for “intensive military action” (Russian agencies, April 11). Maskhadov’s orders would seem to correspond with the coming arrival of spring and the appearance of foliage–ideal conditions for stepping up guerrilla offensive.

Even now, the guerrilla war in Chechnya is continuing with no let up, and the rebels have been increasingly targeting Chechens working for the federal authorities. On April 8, rebels killed five residents of the village of Kulary in the Groznensk agricultural region. While the victims were murdered in various parts of the village, the law enforcement authorities are convinced that one group was responsible for the killings. One of the victims, Larisa Movsarov, deputy head of the village’s administration, was shot to death by four armed intruders who burst into her home. The intruders left her husband and child untouched. At virtually the same moment, another five gunmen killed four other villagers, including a local police officer, and wounded five. The son of the head of the local administration was among the victims: There were conflicting reports as to whether he was killed or seriously wounded. Almost at the same time, a similar attack took place in the town of Alkhan-Yurt, where several masked gunmen burst into the home of a local resident and shot him to death. Also on April 8, rebel fighters in the southeastern part of the republic opened fire on an automobile, killing its driver and seriously wounding two elderly female passengers. According to Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin the attackers evidently thought the car contained Russian military personnel (Nezavisimay Gazeta, April 10).