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High-Ranking Russian Officer Found Not Guilty in Death of Chechen Woman - 2002-12-31

A court in the Russian city of Rostov on Don said Colonel Yuri Budanov was not responsible for abducting and killing a Chechen woman because he is mentally ill. The court ordered Mr. Budanov to enter a psychiatric hospital.

Mr. Budanov is the highest ranking Russian officer to be brought up on charges for crimes committed in Chechnya, where Russian forces have been fighting Chechen rebels.

The colonel admitted strangling to death 18 years old Elza Kungayeva but said he acted in a fit of anger because he believed she was a Chechen sniper. He underwent a number of psychiatric exams and the most recent concluded he was insane at the time of the murder.

Ms. Kungayeva's family denies she was a sniper and says a group of drunken Russian soldiers dragged her from her home, raped and then murdered her.

The head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, Anna Neistat, criticized Tuesday's decision. "I think the signal is that Russia is not going to proceed with bringing these perpetrators to justice, will not proceed with accountability," she said.

Ms. Neistat also questioned why Mr. Budanov was serving in a high ranking post in Chechnya if he was mentally ill.

Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have long accused both Russian forces and Chechen rebels of human rights violations.