Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 17

On June 6, the human rights organization Memorial issued a report entitled “Examples of the Malicious Non-Observance of Order No. 80 of the Commander of the [Russian] Combined Group of Forces during May of 2002” (Memo.ru, June 6). Among the several events described in this lengthy report was a “special operation” conducted by the federal forces in the village of Avtury, Shali District, between May 14 and 20. The alleged purpose of the operation was “to check the registration of people at their place of residence and to unearth participants in the illegal armed formations.” The village was blockaded early on the morning of May 14, and a temporary filtration point was then set up. “General I.B. Bronitsky headed the preparation and conducting of the entire operation. The village was encircled by the 71st regiment, while inside the village soldiers of the [MVD] internal troops and employees of the FSB went to work.”

During the conducting of this special operation in Avtury, Memorial underlined, there occurred numerous violations of Order No. 80. Representatives of the local Muslim clergy and village elders were, for example, not permitted to observe the operation, even though the head of the village administration spoke to General Bronitsky about this. “A military prosecutor in the rank of lieutenant colonel, who was present during the ‘cleansing operation,’ spent the entire time at staff headquarters and did not appear in public. There were no representatives of the [pro-Moscow] civilian procuracy present.” The numbers on the armored and other vehicles used by the “cleansers” were smudged over or otherwise concealed. When they entered homes, the Russian soldiers “did not identify themselves to the owners and did not explain the reasons for their search,” violations of Order No. 80. Some of the soldiers were drunk and behaved rudely during the operation.

According to various sources, Memorial continued, some forty to forty-seven residents of Avtury were taken into custody, as well as five persons from a nearby village. “According to the accounts of local residents, all of those arrested, with the exception of two ill persons (invalids of the first and second group) were subjected to beatings and torture, including electric shock torture.” Electric shock treatment was applied to the fingers, ears and legs of the villagers. “[Russian] officers took part in the beatings and torture… The screams of those being tortured were heard a long distance away, and the military procurator…had to have heard them. But he took no action to cut off the arbitrary action.” One young man, Il’yas Shovkhalov, was murdered by the soldiers, who blew him up with explosives at the site of his home. After having reportedly been tortured, Shovkhalov confessed to having a weapon concealed in his house; when the soldiers were unable to find a weapon, they took a decision to kill him. Shovkhalov’s blown-apart remains were buried by relatives. Three other young men (their names are provided) were taken away by the soldiers, perhaps to Khankala Military Base near Grozny, and are now reported as missing without trace. “At the end of the ‘mopping up operation’ the head of the village administration was given a blank sheet of paper by General Bronitsky’s headquarters and asked to sign it. The head of administration refused to do so despite pressure and threats, and he signed a document only when information concerning looting [committed by the Russian troops] and concerning those villagers who had disappeared without trace was entered into the text.”

On June 7, Memorial issued another report, entitled “A Cleansing Operation in the Village of Mesker-Yurt.” For more than two weeks, Memorial wrote, a cleansing operation by the federal forces has been occurring in Mesker-Yurt. On June 5, a burial service was held for five villagers: Zaur and Shamil Malaev, ages 17 and 19; Adam Soltmurzaev, age 35; Ibragim Dudaev; and a fifth person whose name could not be established. All but Dudaev were killed when they offered armed resistance to the soldiers seeking to enter their homes. “Ibragim Dudaev was taken into custody by the federal forces and was later found dead.” As of Jun 3e, sixty villagers were said to be in custody, “including one young woman, age 25.” The head of administration of the village was said to under pressure to sign “a document in which it is said that the ‘cleansing operation’ took place without violations.” The fate of the sixty villagers in detention was being directly linked to his signing this document (Memo.ru, June 7).