The bodies of nine Interior Ministry OMON soldiers taken hostage last March were found April 30 in southeastern Chechnya. Based in the Russian city of Perm prior to being dispatched to Chechnya, they were taken prisoner during an attack on a troop column on March 29 near the village of Zhani-Vedeno. Forty-three OMON soldiers were killed in that attack. Rebel commanders threatened to execute the nine POWs if Moscow refused to exchange them for a Russian colonel accused of raping and murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman. The Russian side rejected the ultimatum, and the rebels reported on April 5 that the soldiers had been executed, apparently by shooting. The bodies reportedly showed signs of torture (Russian agencies, Agence France Presse, May 1; see the Monitor, March 31).
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department officially put two leading Chechen rebel field commanders, Shamil Basaev and Khattab, on its list of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. The State Department noted in a statement that Moscow began its military operation in the North Caucasus last year after Basaev and Khattab led an attack against neighboring Dagestan (Russian agencies, May 1).
At the same time, the Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body set up by the U.S. Congress, has accused the Russian government of using anti-Muslim propaganda in the prosecution of its war against the Chechen rebels. “While the conflict in Chechnya is based on political and geographic factors, the severity of the documented human rights abuses against the majority Muslim population requires the attention of the commission and the U.S. government,” the report said. The commission issued its first annual report yesterday. Among other things, it warned that Russia’s 1997 Religion Law was a “significant step backward” in the area of religious freedom (Agence France Presse, May 1).
KOCHARIAN FIRES THE PRIME MINISTER AND DEFENSE MINISTER.