Grozny Mayor Recants Over Mass-Grave Remarks
Published: April 13, 2001 (Issue # 661)
MOSCOW - Grozny Mayor Bislan Gan tamirov backtracked Wednesday on remarks he made a day earlier about a mass grave found by his staff on the grounds of a police station in the Che chen capital.
After saying Tuesday that 17 bodies with gunshot wounds had been found in the basement of a bombed-out dormitory next to the Oktyabrskoye police station, Gantamirov did an about-face and joined the chorus of federal officials denying the findings.
"If [presidential envoy to the North Cau casus District General Viktor] Ka zant sev thinks there is no one there, it means there is no one there," Ganta mi rov said by telephone on Wednesday.
Kommersant reported Tuesday that Gan tamirov had announced the discovery and accused Interior Ministry troops stationed at the police station of killing Chechen detainees. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Gantamirov confirmed the report.
The story of the burial site has been rife with contradictions.
Federal officials, including Chechnya's prosecutor Viktor Dakhnov, announced Tuesday that the site had been searched and no bodies found.
However, on Wednesday acting Grozny prosecutor Yury Ponomaryov said the investigation was continuing.
"It is impossible to say for certain whether there are bodies there or not," Ponomaryov told NTV television.
Explaining his change of heart Wednesday, Gantamirov said he'd learned of the discovery from the same source as Kazantsev, who first confirmed the find but then said an investigation had come up empty.
"I was relying on the same source of information as Kazantsev," Gantamirov told Interfax. "If he then maintained there is no grave, I have to believe him."
Gantamirov did not specify his source of information.
But Chechnya's prosecutor Dak h nov told Interfax on Wednesday that the reports were based on claims by local residents.
"They are looking for relatives missing since January and for some reason are convinced their bodies can be found near the Oktyabrskoye police station," Dakh nov told Interfax.
Russian television Wednesday showed investigators inspecting the ruins of the shell-shattered dormitory as Chechen women roamed around nearby. Gantamirov said his men were at the site as well, but declined to elaborate.
Gantamirov, whose current stint as Grozny's mayor began in October, has a bumpy relationship with the Kremlin. He was first appointed mayor after federal troops seized Grozny in 1994 and held the post until May 1996, when he was jailed after a conviction for embezzling millions of dollars allocated for restoring the devastated city. In October 1999, shortly after the second campaign began, Gantamirov was pardoned and appointed to head the pro-Kremlin Che chen police. Since then, he has often been at odds with his boss, Che chen administration head Akhmad Kadyrov.
Human rights groups have registered complaints about disappearances of people detained by troops from the Oktyabrskoye police station.
But Vladimir Salnikov, an officer from the elite OMON unit in charge of the station until early this month, told Kommersant his comrades had nothing to do with the disappearance of local residents, adding that mass graves in Chechnya are commonplace.
"Half the buildings in [Grozny's] Oktyabrsky district are destroyed. Most ruins haven't been cleared since the previous war, so God knows how many more bodies - both Chechen and ours - are underneath," Salnikov was quoted as saying.