Raid in Chechen villages sends hundreds fleeing for refugee camps
SLEPTSOVSKAYA, Russia (AP) – Hundreds of civilians fled Chechnya for refugee camps Wednesday amid reports of summary executions by Russian forces as troops combed villages in the war-shattered republic for rebels.
The search operation in Sernovodsk and Assinovskaya, near Chechnya’s western border with the Russian republic of Ingushetia, began Monday after five police officers were killed in a car bombing.
Sernovodsk was sealed by police and Russian forces began a search for any adult men, shortly after the Sunday blast. Since Monday, about 500 frightened civilians have fled the area to a refugee camp in Ingushetia.
”I am afraid to stay home,” said Adam Astamirov, a 46-year-old from Sernovodsk, who came to the camp Wednesday with his 19- and 22-year-old sons. The three were briefly detained in Sernovodsk before being allowed to leave, he said.
”They (Russian officials) have been saying that the war was over, but it’s only getting worse,” Astamirov said.
About 400 people were detained in Sernovodsk and held for a day in a field outside the village while the military checked their identities, witnesses said. All but seven were later released.
The Russian troops then launched a similar operation in nearby Assinovskaya on Tuesday.
”They detained all men aged from 15 to 50, over 500 people, and put us down on our knees in a … pit at the village’s edge,” said a 21-year-old who gave only his first name, Murad.
”They kept us there for the entire day,” Murad recalled. ”They ordered us not to move, and beat some people with rifle butts, hunted them with dogs and tortured with electric shockers.”
Murad said the Russian troops freed most of the detainees late Tuesday, but detained about 40 men.
The Kremlin’s chief spokesman on Chechnya was not available Wednesday, but Russian officials in the past have dismissed charges of human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Russian forces have been unable to end raids by small bands of rebels, despite claiming to have controlled most of the republic for more than a year. The troops routinely seize Chechen men and women from the streets and their homes, especially after serious attacks against Russian positions.
Some of the detainees have later been found dead, and human rights groups accuse federal troops of torture and summary executions, charges the military denies.
A liberal Russian newspaper this week chronicled alleged killings of at least 15 male and female civilians by federal troops in several villages of the southern Vedeno district over the past few months. The chilling account in Novaya Gazeta said servicemen broke into villagers’ homes, sometimes demanding vodka, and then seized and executed residents.
The report, written by respected journalist Anna Politkovskaya – who was detained by federal forces earlier this year after uncovering alleged military abuses – also said troops shot villagers on the streets, and listed the victims’ names and ages.
Russian troops, who suffered a defeat in a 1994-6 war with Chechen separatists, re-entered the republic in 1999. The invasion came after Chechnya-based militants invaded a neighboring Russian region, and after apartment bombings around Russia blamed on rebels.
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