The January 31 issue of Novye Izvestia carried an article entitled “From One ‘Mopping Up Operation’ to the Next,” authored by journalist Zoya Svetova, devoted to the recent cleansing operations conducted by Russian forces in Chechnya. “As distinct from the Strasbourg parliamentarians,” Svetova wrote, “human rights defenders working in Chechnya do not see any positive changes in the sphere of human rights. Diderik Lohman, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, is quoted by Svetova as saying: “They tell us that the military phase of the operation has ended, but the ‘mopping up operations,’ which are constantly being conducted in Chechnya, remind one of real military operations.”
Looting and the unlawful seizure of peaceful residents, Svetova noted, took place during operations conducted by Russian forces at the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002. “The most harsh and extensive” she pointed out, “was the [recent] ‘mopping up’ of the village of Tsotsin [Tsotsan]-Yurt.” “We want,” Lohman observed to Svetova, “to try to convince the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or the experts of the Council of Europe to involve themselves in studying the legality of taking peaceful residents into custody during ‘mopping up operations.’ It is necessary for the members of the Russian delegation [to PACE], possibly at the next session of PACE, to make a report in which they explain according to what legal procedures the mass arrest of people is taking place.” The European Court for Human Rights, Lohman remarked, has already had considerable experience with cases involving the mass disappearance of people and the practice of torture.
In an article entitled “The Scorched Cross of Tsotsan-Yurt,” which appeared in the no. 6 (January 28) issue of Novaya Gazeta, the award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya provided the names of five villagers who had disappeared without trace during the mopping up operation conducted in that village in late December and early January; one of them, Akhmed Baisultanov, born in 1968, had been diagnosed by doctors as mentally ill. On January 13, Politkovskaya reported, “Oleg Orlov, the chairman of the council of the human rights center Memorial, arrived in Tsotsan-Yurt, on the tenth day after the ‘special operation’ began and conducted his own investigation, with the goal of determining whether or not there was a ‘first cause’ [for the operation], that is, for the battles with bandits who had entered the village, according to the televised assurances of [Russian presidential spokesman] Yastrzhembsky and high-ranking military men….” Orlov, who, according to Politkovskaya, is cautious and judicious in arriving at his judgments, concluded that in the village “there took place a normal punitive operation, and no targeted checking of passports. Pogroms, the burning of buildings, marauding, arrests and murders all occurred.”