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Russia: Scandal Brews Over Raid In Chechnya

By Claire Bigg

A raid carried out by special security forces of the Russian army on a Chechen village inhabited by ethnic minorities on 4 June is turning into a major scandal. In the wake of the brutal raid, hundreds of ethnic Avars, a group indigenous to Chechnya, fled to safety toward the neighboring province of Daghestan. Now, a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling the raid an act of sabotage against the Russian state.

Moscow, 23 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Dmitrii Kozak, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, was in Chechnya yesterday to try to calm tensions following a violent raid on Borozdinovskaya, a Chechen village largely inhabited by ethnic Avars.

About 1,000 Avars say special force belonging to the Russian Army carried out a sweep operation on their village in early June.

They say the heavily armed assailants killed a 77-year-old man, abducted 11 male villagers, and set several houses on fire. The 11 men are still missing.

In the wake of the early-June attack, the villagers fled their home with their belongings loaded onto trucks and set up a tent camp in a field several hundred meters on each side from the border between Chechnya and Daghestan.

Speaking in the Chechen capital Grozny yesterday, Kozak expressed outrage at the raid, calling it an act of “sabotage” against Russia, Daghestan, and Chechnya. He vowed the Russian government would not let the violence go unpunished.

"This incident, as well as everything that had happened before it, is outrageous," Kozak said. "It is clear that neither the people [local residents] nor we [authorities] should put up with the enormous moral and material damage that has been caused. Those officials responsible for this should be punished.”

On the same day, the head of the Shelkovskii district, where the village is located, was fired by the pro-Moscow Chechen administration and a criminal case was launched for “abduction” and “extortion."

Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel, speaking in Vladikavkaz yesterday, joined Kozak’s efforts to calm passions.

"A team has been set up to investigate this incident," Shepel said. "The team includes civilian prosecutors, and they are questioning the victims and eyewitnesses now. More than 100 people have already been questioned. I am sure we will find out all the circumstances [of the raid]."

But in their makeshift camp, the Borozdinovskaya refugees are still shocked, and many are angry. They demand that the authorities find their missing relatives and they blame the raid on the Yamadaevsky, a Chechen militia group that is part of the Russian Army.

The Yamadaevtsy form a special unit known as “battalion Vostok,” or “east," because of its heavy-handed operation in the east of Chechnya.

This is what an angry Borozdinovskaya villager told RFE/RL: "They [investigators] asked us, 'Do your have any witnesses who saw it (the raid)?' Yes, we have many witnesses and four of them even pointed at [Sulim] Yamadaev, the commander of the Vostok [special-forces battalion].”

Human rights groups in Russia have also squarely pinned the blame on the Vostok battalion.

“There is no reason to doubt that people from Yamadaev’s Vostok battalion did it," said Aleksandr Cherkasov, who works for the prominent Russian human rights group Memorial. "They are considered as serving in the Russian army’s special forces, although they are ethnic Chechens. Their aim is obvious, just like the aim of similar operations: reprisal, terror.”

Memorial reports that in May an unidentified armed group killed the forester of Borozdinovskaya village. The son of the forester serves in the Vostok battalion. That has raised speculation that revenge and interethnic tensions might have played a part in the 4 June operation against the village.

The fate of the Borozdinovskaya refugees remains unclear. On the one hand, they are afraid of returning to their village. On the other, Daghestan is so far unwilling to grant them asylum.

Akhmed-Nabi Magdikhadjiev, a member of the Security Council of Daghestan, said on 21 June that villages in Daghestan were already crowded and could not accommodate another thousand people. He added that 500 villages were already located in potential landslide regions.

The Daghestani government’s reluctance has added insult to injury for the Borozdinovskaya villagers, some of whom are losing patience.

A woman who fled Borozdinovskaya said with distress that the Daghestani authorities had asked the villagers to hire lawyers.

"We were told to hire lawyers," she said. "Are we now, with our grief, supposed to hire a lawyer and pay him just to prove that our children are innocent and that they are not militants?"

The fate of the displaced villagers has captured the world’s attention, and the conflict is threatening to turn into a major scandal. In Russia, it appears to be sparking anger among some prominent Daghestanis.

"Look at the condition we have been driven to," Gadji Makhachev, who represents Daghestan in the Russian State Duma, told Borozdinovskaya villagers yesterday from the Chechnya-Daghestan border. "We are turning into cowards. We are bearing all this with patience but our patience is turning into cowardice."

(RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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