Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 19

On June 26, Interfax reported that the number of IDPs fleeing from Chechnya into Ingushetia was on the rise. “In general,” Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Migration and Law Network of the Russian human rights organization Memorial, remarked, “the inflow of refugees from Chechnya to Ingushetia consists of people who had earlier returned to Chechnya but later left it again, fearing for their relatives’ lives after another ‘mopping-up operation.'” Memorial estimates that there currently about 200,000 Chechen IDPs taking refuge in Ingushetia, 50,000 more than the figure provided by the Russian Ministry of Interior.

The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Olara Otunnu, confirmed on June 24 that he had raised the question of voluntary returns of IDPs from Ingushetia to Chechnya in talks with officials of the Russian Federation, with the president of the Republic of Ingushetia, and with the [pro-Moscow] Government of the Republic of Chechnya. “They all,” Otunnu recalled, “gave me direct and firm assurances that the displaced persons will not be forced to return against their will” (UN News Service, June 24). Reports by Western and Russian journalists who recently visited Ingushetia, however, served to cast doubt on such assurances. Writing in the June 17 issue of the Baltimore Sun, correspondent Douglas Birth observed: “Though Moscow officials claim they are not forcing anyone to return, the Chechen refugees say bread distribution has been halted in their camps. Aid workers say authorities have threatened to cut off electricity and gas. And Russian soldiers have stepped up raids on the camps [in Ingushetia]–saying they are looking for weapons.”

In similar fashion, Timur Aliev, a freelance journalist based in Ingushetia, reported on June 20: “Pressure on the [Chechen] refugees is beginning to grow. They report that since June 1, they have stopped receiving free bread…. The rules of registration have been tightened up and they are even being asked to pay for [the process of registration]. “Recently all the camp superintendents were called to a meeting by the interior ministry of Ingushetia,” said Baudi Dudaev [a Chechen human rights worker]. “The deputy interior minister, Ziyauddin Kotiev, and the police chief of Grozny told those present that everyone should leave Ingushetia and return to Chechnya by the autumn and that gas and light [will] be switched off in the camps” (IWPR, June 20).

Writing in the June 29 issue of the Washington Post, correspondent Sharon LaFraniere wrote concerning one Chechen IDP taking refuge in Ingushetia, Kuslum Savnykaeva, who in May of this year “went to visit her parents in Mesker-Yurt, a village of roughly 2,000 about seven miles east of Grozny…. She had not been there long when Russian troops suddenly surrounded and closed off the village to conduct a zachistka [cleansing operation] that lasted three weeks. She said she saw some of the victims of the operation after their relatives carried them back from a field the soldiers had occupied at the edge of the village: a man whose eye was gouged out; another whose fingers were cut off; a third whose back had been sliced in rows with the sharp edge of broken glass, then doused with alcohol and set afire…. Her brothers and nephews were spared, she said, only because her family paid the soldiers a US$400 bribe not to hurt them. ‘I have never imagined such tortures, such cruelty,’ she said.”

The June 17 issue of the French daily Le Figaro carried an article by journalist Patrick de Saint-Exupery which was translated into Russian and posted on the website on the same day. Visiting Djohar (Grozny), Saint-Exupery spoke with a terrified peasant woman from Mesker-Yurt who, along with other villagers, had been permitted by Russian soldiers to leave the blockaded village and drive three trucks into the Chechen capital in order to purchase food. The villagers had been literally starving. The woman’s father and uncle had been executed by Russian soldiers early in 2000 in the yard of their farm, and, that November, one of her brothers had been abducted by soldiers. “I found him in a sewer. There were eleven bullet holes in his back; they had stolen his shoes and sweater.” The peasant woman said that the soldiers who had just now sealed off Mesker-Yurt were selling the bodies of those they had killed for US$500 each. “The residents of the village are refusing to sign a paper confirming that the soldiers have done nothing unlawful. The soldiers say that they will stay and that the village will remain sealed until the paper is signed.” Saint-Exupery also spoke with a woman psychiatrist who had been ministering to a nine-year-old Chechen girl: Russian soldiers had recently “killed the girl’s father before her eyes. The mother had been wounded. The young girl… had spent the night in a pool of their blood, sobbing and crying out. In the morning the neighbors came and buried the father…. The girl was almost paralyzed. She kept whispering: ‘Will they come back?'”