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Rights Group Denounces Climate of Terror in Chechnya - 2003-12-04

A leading Russian human rights group, Memorial, has denounced what it says is a continuing climate of terror by Russian federal forces in Chechnya, despite Russian-sponsored presidential elections earlier in the year hailed as a first step toward peace.

Rights activist Oleg Orlov of Memorial says the non-governmental organization recorded 431 kidnappings in Chechnya over the past year.

From that number, Mr. Orlov says, Memorial found that 137 people were freed, sometimes through paying ransom, but another 47 were killed.

Addressing reporters in Moscow on Wednesday, Mr. Orlov says the real toll is far higher, since, he says, Memorial has access to only 25 to 35 percent of Chechen territory.

Mr. Orlov says Memorial firmly denounces what he calls the continuing climate of terror.

Mr. Orlov asks rhetorically, who is busy with the kidnapping? He says the answer is obvious. He says Memorial finds that Russian federal forces still engage in the activity. But, he adds, special forces under newly elected, Kremlin-backed President Akhmed Kadyrov also take part in such actions.

Mr. Orlov acknowledged that there were fewer massive security sweeps through Chechen villages and towns in 2003. But he denounced the continuing disappearance of civilians as a deliberate policy of breeding fear in an already terrorized population.

Russian federal forces returned to Chechnya for a second time more than 4 years ago, after a failed campaign in the late 1990s forced Moscow to withdraw.

Mr. Orlov says there is only one way to halt the dangerous cycle of violence and oppression, and that is the political will from Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government.

Mr. Orlov says that, at present, Memorial sees no will to stop the current chaos. Rather, he says, there is support from state power to foment struggle through illegal means. He alleges that there is even a special managed system to kill people opposed to the newly elected, pro-Moscow officials.

The findings by Memorial come nearly two months after the Kremlin-sponsored election, which international rights observers say should never have been held as long as the war continues.

The southern Russian republic has descended into essentially a guerilla-style war, with Russian and Chechen separatist casualties recorded on a near-daily basis.

President Putin says the situation in Chechnya is returning to normal, and he has encouraged refugees to return home.