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Military Operations in Chechnya Spreading to Neighboring Ingushetia - 2003-07-16


A senior official of the group Human Rights Watch said Russia's military operations in Chechnya are spreading to neighboring Ingushetia. The official is urging Russia to rein in its forces, or risk further undermining security in the region.

The director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, Anna Neistat, said researchers have documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, ill treatment and looting, during recent Russian military operations in Ingush villages and settlements of displaced Chechens.

Ms. Neistat said the evidence shows that Russian forces are exhibiting the same patterns of brutal behavior witnessed in Chechnya. And she said that as long as the region remains unsafe, it is the Russian government's responsibility to provide protection and assistance to those displaced in the conflict.

Ms. Neistat said Human Rights Watch is calling on Russian authorities to comply with Russian and international law, which require the government to ensure that its forces do not target civilians. She said continuing abuses of civilians in Ingushetia could push the region into a civil war like the one in Chechnya.

Ms. Neistat noted that until recently, Ingushetia remained relatively safe and peaceful, hosting thousands of Chechens who fled their homes when the second Chechen conflict began in 1999. But according to Ms. Neistat, the situation changed dramatically late last year, when federal migration authorities started pressuring the Chechens living in Ingushetia to return home.

The Human Rights Watch official said heavy international criticism, coupled with logistical difficulties, ultimately saved the Chechen tent camps from closure. Yet, she said Russian authorities did not abandon the plan and appear to again be intensifying pressure and threats in order to force people to leave.

Meanwhile, Ms. Neistat said Chechnya remains extremely volatile despite the Russian government's claims that life there is returning to normal.

Ms. Neistat said she holds out little hope that the Russian government's recent amnesty offer in Chechnya, or upcoming Chechen presidential elections, will result in positive change.

In the last few weeks Chechen rebels have again taken their campaign outside Chechnya. A double suicide bombing at a Moscow rock festival killed 13 people, and the two female bombers. A subsequent bombing at a cafe not far from the Kremlin has also been linked to a Chechen woman. The female bombers have come to be known as black widows, because many of them turned to violence after losing their husbands in the decades-old conflict with Russia.

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