Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 1

Two members of President Putin’s commission on human rights charge that “various agencies” have been trying to get them to soften the content of the report that they were preparing for Putin about Chechen refugees in Ingushetia. Lyudmila Alekseyeva and Svetlana Gannushkina told a January 10 press conference in Moscow, reported by the Russian newswire, that these unidentified agencies were pressuring them to write that the situation in Chechnya was improving and that it was feasible for refugees to return there. They said that they were also urged to omit passages about the compulsory expulsion of Chechens from refugee camps.

The two human rights specialists had recently visited Chechnya and Ingushetia to study the situation of Chechen refugees there. They said that at first they were met by “specially instructed” Chechens who told them that all was well–and that they would have been have been taken in by this “performance” if they had not later seen with their own eyes how bulldozers were removing the tents of refugees.

Unless censored, their report threatens to embarrass both the Putin administration and the pro-Moscow administration in Grozny. Mikhail Babich, prime minister of the latter, told the website in a December interview that “at the latest, by the end of January all the tent cities in Ingushetia should be liquidated and all the displaced persons temporarily living there should move to the territory of the republic [of Chechnya].” On January 14 Interfax reported that Magomet Markhiyev, Ingushetia’s deputy prime minister for refugee affairs had admitted that the return to Chechnya of the 65,000 displaced persons who the Ingush government estimates to be living in that province will be possible only in the spring. That estimate is double the figure of 33,000 released by the Federal Migration Service in Moscow and reported in the January 5 issue of Trud. Other sources give even higher estimates: Ruslan Badalov, chairman of the nongovernmental Committee of National Salvation, gave Radio Liberty an estimate of close to 150,000.