Forty-four Chechen refugees are presently continuing a hunger strike in the camps for forced migrants located in Ingushetia. The hunger strikers have vowed not to eat anything until the Russian government consents to negotiate a settlement to the current conflict with Aslan Maskhadov, the elected president of Chechnya. Journalist Bakhtiyar Akhmedkhanov visited the hunger strikers in the camps and then filed a report appearing in the no. 27 (July 5) issue of Obshchaya Gazeta. All of the hunger strikers, he wrote, are taking water, and some of them are also taking vitamins. “According to the doctors, a person on such a diet is capable of lasting for two or even three months.”
“Those who are hunger striking,” Akhmedkhanov remarked, “intend to hold on to the end.” The oldest of the strikers is 83-year-old Said Salim Murtalov; the youngest is a seven-year-old boy named Islam, who has rejected the pleas of his father, also taking part in the action, that he break off his strike. Those participating in the action, Akhmedkhanov observes, are counting on receiving help from the West. “From Russia,” he adds, “they expect nothing good.” The strikers note that “the humanitarian aid in the camps is Western or Arab; the medicine is provided by the International Red Cross, by ‘Doctors without Borders,’ or by ‘Islamic Aid,’ and even the new tent camps have been erected by foreigners.”
On July 2, Alla Vlazneva, spokeswoman for the pro-Moscow Chechen government, complained that the hunger strike in the Ingushetian camps had been organized and was being paid for by the wife of Aslan Maskhadov, Kusama (who is reported to be living in the Chechen settlement of Znamenskoe). “According to eyewitnesses, people were paid up to US$1,000 for the organization of such an action,” Vlazneva said (Presscenter.ru, July 3). Maskhadov’s press center immediately rejected Vlazneva’s charges as a complete fabrication (Agence France Presse, July 2).