Chechen Village Sends Out Call for Help
Published: March 12, 2002 (Issue # 752)
MOSCOW - After seeing 82 residents killed or vanish, the Chechen village of Tsotsin-Yurt has signed an appeal urging the West to prevent the "mass extermination of Chechens" by Russian troops, a Chechen organization said Monday.
The Chechen National Salvation Committee, which backs rebel Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, said that 700 residents of Tsotsin-Yurt in the Kurchaloi district had signed the petition detailing the deaths of 82 villagers during the ongoing Chechnya conflict, and that it would forward the letter to human-rights activists at the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Human Rights Watch.
"We ask you to help us to stop the genocide against our nation and, as a first step, to send international observers to Chechnya," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The St. Petersburg Times.
Of the people listed, 41 died or disappeared during so-called mopping-up operations in the village. More than 20 died of wounds inflicted by gunfire or bombings, five were killed at checkpoints and six were tortured to death, the letter said. In addition, 12 people were picked up for questioning in their homes, some as long as two years ago, and have yet to return.
Ruslan Badalov, head of the Chechen National Salvation Committee, said Tsotsin-Yurt villagers brought the letter to his office in Nazran, Ingushetia, on Saturday.
They told him they were holding a round-the-clock protest against the violence in their village "for the third week running."
The letter also outlines incidents of alleged military brutality, including one described by Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya after a visit to the village last month. According to the letter and Politkovskaya, federal troops killed five people, including a pregnant woman, near Tsotsin-Yurt on Feb. 4 and burned the corpses. Two of the people were Tsotsin-Yurt residents.
The Federal Security Service, which is overseeing what it calls "the counter-terrorist operation" in Chechnya, could not immediately comment.
Lecha Yakhyayev, spokesman for the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, said the letter "blows the situation out of proportion" and that it would be difficult to prove the individuals mentioned were all peaceful civilians.
"Some of them could have been fighters who were killed when they tried to escape," he said by telephone from Grozny.
Diederik Lohman, Human Rights Watch's director in Moscow, said the letter was a sign that many Chechens were fed up.
"What is going on in the republic - and it is remarkable at the moment - is that people have started to openly and publicly protest against the murders of their relatives and neighbors," he said. "They understand that there is no other option to ever stop this war."
Human-rights activists say thousands of civilians have died in fighting that started in 1999.
The Foreign Ministry said Thursday that it was "surprised, to put it mildly" by the U.S. State Department's criticism of Russia's human-rights record and objected in particular to the "odious" section on Chechnya.
"One gets the impression that its writers simply used old drafts, as if nothing had happened in either Russia or the United States in recent years, as if the events of Sept. 11, 2001, had not occurred and the international community had not closed ranks in the battle against terrorism," the ministry said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
The State Department's annual human-rights report, which was published Monday, said Russia had a poor record regarding the independence and freedom of the media and in Chechnya. Russian security forces in Chechnya have "demonstrated little respect for basic human rights and there were credible reports of serious violations, including numerous reports of extrajudicial killings by both the government and Chechen fighters," the report said.
Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have portrayed the conflict in Chechnya as a war against international terrorists. However, U.S. officials note that some of the rebels do not have international ties, and they have criticized Russian military abuse of civilians - though the criticism was toned down greatly after Russia became an enthusiastic member of the anti-terrorist coalition.
The Foreign Ministry said that the State Department pronouncement on Chechnya reflected the efforts of "certain circles" in the United States that object to the new U.S.-Russian partnership against international terrorism.