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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.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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