A senior official from the United Nations refugee agency says he is worried the security problems in Chechnya may be spilling over into nearby areas of Russia.
The director of the agency's European regional bureau, Raymond Hall, said on a visit to Moscow that he had heard reports of Chechen civilians disappearing from the Russian region of Ingushetia. Ingushetia borders the breakaway republic of Chechnya and is home to many Chechen refugees who fled the fighting there.
Mr. Hall said he was told of 10 cases of men disappearing after they had been arrested and detained by security officials in Ingushetia. The UNHCR official said he received the reports from various non-governmental organizations working in Ingushetia while he was on a recent tour through the North Caucasus to assess the refugee situation.
Mr. Hall said he was not able to verify the reports, but said he passed the information along to Russian officials during meetings in Moscow. "It seems to me that it is in nobody's interest that problems of insecurity and problems of human security spreading from Chechnya into Ingushetia; that's in nobody's interest," he said.
Human rights officials say thousands of civilians have been unjustly arrested and are sometimes tortured or killed while Russian officials turn a blind eye. They say this has long been a problem in Chechnya, but officials of human rights group say they think the problem now is spreading into neighboring Ingushetia.
Russian officials have acknowledged that innocent civilians have been detained in the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya. But they insist these are isolated instances and that Moscow is putting a stop to it.
Since 1999, Russia has been waging a war against separatists in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Moscow says they have the situation under control but Russian soldiers, Chechen fighters and civilians die almost daily as fighting continues.
UNHCR says there are about 150,000 people living in Ingushetia who fled Chechnya when fighting started three years ago.
About 65 percent of the Chechen refugees in Ingushetia live with Ingush families. The rest live in tent camps or abandoned buildings.
Mr. Hall said the strain of caring for Chechen refugees for three years has begun to take its toll on many Ingush families. Many Chechen families are being evicted and are forced to find housing elsewhere.