CHECHEN “CLEANSING” OPERATIONS DISPLACE THOUSANDS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 130

So-called “cleansing” or “mopping up” operations by Russian forces aimed at two Chechen villages have caused thousands of civilians to flee into neighboring Ingushetia and have been accompanied by looting and other abuses. Last week federal troops launched the “zachistki,” as such operations are called in Russian, in and around the villages of Sernovodsk and Assinovskaya in the Sunzhensk district near Chechnya’s border with Ingushetia. The operations followed several Chechen rebel bomb attacks in the area that left eleven Russian servicemen dead (see the Monitor, July 5). Sulim Makhmudov, deputy head of the Sunzhensk administration, told the Moscow Times last week that some 1,500 people from the two villages had been detained. Lipkhan Bazayeva, a member of the human rights group Memorial, said many of the detainees had been beaten and tortured. She said that one, Salambek Amagov, had died on July 5 as a result. The head of a refugee support group in Nazran, Ingushetia said that he was told by a Sernovodsk resident that federal troops detained all males they could find ranging from 13 to 60 years old–a total of 700 villagers–and that other residents were allowed to buy their way out of detention, with rates ranging from 200 rubles (some US$7) for boys to 500-1,000 rubles for older men. The same person was also quoted as saying that the federal troops involved in the “cleansing” operation there engaged in wholesale looting, loading up trucks with carpets, electronic equipment and even food taken from local homes. According to the Sernovodsk administration, the district prosecutor’s office has received some 200 complaints from residents who claim that they were victimized during the special operation.

The mayors of Sernovodsk and Assinovskaya have tendered their resignations in protest. Stanislav Il’yasov, the head of the Chechen government, criticized the operations there as being unnecessarily harsh, while Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov defended them as “tough but necessary” and as having been carried out legally. For his part, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, took issue with Gryzlov today, suggesting that the interior minister had been misinformed and calling the operations in the two villages “a large-scale crime against the civilian population.” Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev said on July 6 that he had asked for an investigation into the Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk events, and a special investigation group that includes Chechnya’s chief prosecutor and officials from the FSB and Interior Ministry began working today. Nationalities Minister Aleksandr Blokhin said over the weekend that servicemen who had violated the law during the operations would be punished.

Sernovodsk and Assinovskaya were previously declared safe zones in order to entice Chechen refugees who had fled to Ingushetia to return home. Nearly all the 26,000 refugees who had settled in tent camps in the two villages, however, have fled again to Ingushetia to escape the latest cleansing operations. Similar operations carried out in other parts of the republic, including the town of Argun and the village of Alkhan-Kala, have also been accompanied by complaints of beatings, torture and looting by local residents. The New-York based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that arbitrary detentions in Chechnya had reached “unprecedented” levels (Moscow Times, Radio Ekho Moskvy, Polit.ru, July 9; AP, July 8; Russian agencies, July 6-7).

On July 6, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov released as statement charging that “massive ethnic repression” was being carried out in Chechnya with the “tacit consent” of the British, French and German heads of state. Maskhadov charged that President Vladimir Putin is personally giving orders to ensure that the measures taken against the Chechens are “as severe as possible” and called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to intervene immediately to “oversee” the actions of Russian troops in Chechnya (AFP, July 6). Meanwhile, Russian military officials claim that the Chechen rebels are preparing a large-scale operation to seize the republic’s capital, Djohar [Grozny]. Unnamed officials from the headquarters of the federal forces in Chechnya were quoted as saying that representatives of Maskhadov were currently in talks with those of the rebel field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev about coordinating actions in this direction, and that rebel fighters were infiltrating the capital disguised as refugees (Lenta.ru, July 8).

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