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Chechen Officials Criticize Acquittal of Russian Officer - 2003-01-01

Officials in Russia's separatist region of Chechnya have criticized a court ruling that acquitted a Russian army officer who was accused of human rights abuses in Chechnya. The ruling is seen by many as a miscarriage of justice.

The deputy head of Chechnya's pro-Russian administration says the case of Colonel Yuri Budanov may only increase abuses against civilians in the war-torn region.

Taus Dzhabrailov said Chechens will now lose faith that justice will be done in future cases involving military personnel in Chechnya.

On Tuesday, a military court in the southern Russia city of Rostov-on-Don ruled that Colonel Yuri Budanov was insane at the time he strangled 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva.

During the trial Mr. Budanov said he killed the young woman during a military interrogation. He claimed he was "in a fit of rage" because he believed she was a sniper who had killed some of his men.

However the woman's family says she was actually dragged from her home at night, raped and then killed.

The case is considered a litmus test for the Kremlin's attempts to show that abuses by Russian officers in Chechnya won't be tolerated.

Human rights groups have long documented cases of rape, torture and murder by Russian troops in the breakaway republic, where a separatist war has been raging for most of the past 8 years.

Psychiatrists originally determined that Mr. Budanov was sane at the time of the crime.

However his lawyers ultimately managed to obtain more tests that found that he was insane, and the judge ruled he should be sent to a hospital for treatment rather than to prison.

Russia's commissioner for human rights has also criticized the ruling, says it sends the wrong signal about how Russia deals with abuses committed by the military.