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|Chechen villagers live in fear of impoverished Russian troops|
|04/26/01 at 03:36:46|
|By Patrick Cockburn in Nazran, Ingushetia|
25 April 2001
"I bought this map showing where my sons were buried from a Russian soldier for $200," says Aminat Musaeva, a middle-aged Chechen woman, holding out a scrap of paper on which a hurriedly scrawled X marked the position of a grave close to a Russian army base.
She last saw alive her two sons, Ali and Omar, late last year when Russian police burst into her house in the village of Gekhi in central Chechnya. "One of their armoured personnel carriers had blown up and they were as angry as dogs," she said. They took her sons away.
A month later, using the map, Mrs Musaeva unearthed the naked bodies of Ali and Omar. They were buried, alongside two other corpses, near the base camp of the 245 infantry regiment, a unit notorious for its brutality.
The Russian soldiers also set fire to Mrs Musaeva's house. A Russian investigator warned her that if she kept pressing for an official investigation into what happened, her other relatives would be in danger.
She crossed the border into Ingushetia yesterday to ask for a tent in a refugee camp where she believed her family would be safer but was turned down. A Chechen who had been listening to Mrs Musaeva's troubles said: "She needs to pay a bribe of 4,000 roubles [£100] and she doesn't have the money."
A local politician, who did not want to be named, said: "The war in Chechnya is getting worse. There is a permanent war. The Russian forces really don't control much of Chechnya. At night they stick close to their checkpoints and even during the day they don't move far from their bases. The Chechens no longer fight in large units as they did at the beginning of the war in 1999. It is much more a war of small ambushes, sniping and mines."
Usam Basaiev, a Chechen working for Memorial, a Russian human rights group, said: "The hatred of Chechens for the Russians is deeper than it was even during the first Chechen war in 1994-96." He said the number of Chechen civilians being killed or disappearing when in Russian custody had risen sharply in recent months. The group's monthly report on the murder of civilians used to average 20 to 25 pages but its report for March was 60 pages. Any attack on Russian troops leads to punitive air and artillery strikes against the nearest Chechen settlement.
Anger among Chechens over arrests and disappearances has increased in recent days because soldiers have started seizing schoolchildren from their classes.
The main east-west road through Chechnya was blocked yesterday by a rally of people from Alkhan-Yurt demanding the release of three students, part of a group of 16 who were taken from their school last Friday. Witnesses said the boys were beaten over the shoulders with rifle butts and forced into the back of a truck where they were told to lie down in layers, one on top of another. Villagers staged a demonstration and the boys were released, except for three.
Mr Basaiev believes one reason for the greater aggressiveness of the Russian troops is that they are no longer being paid a special combat allowance and sometimes receive no pay at all. He said: "The best way for a soldier to make money is to detain people and then sell them, alive or dead, back to their relatives."
In addition, anti-Chechen propaganda on Russian television is now unremitting. NTV, the one national channel to give balanced coverage to Chechnya, was taken over by the state 10 days ago.
The bias of Russian television also infuriates Chechens. In the village of Alleroi a shepherd, Hozh Alsutanov, and three children related to him were found shot in the head on 17 April. ORT and RTR, the two state channels, immediately announced that they had been murdered by Chechen guerrillas. Their neighbours say that they were killed by Russian soldiers.
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