SLUG: 7-36451 Dateline: Russia and ChechnyaA
DATE=June 26, 2002
TITLE=Russia and Chechnya
DISK: DATELINE THEME [PLAYED IN STUDIO, FADED UNDER DATELINE HOST VOICE OR PROGRAMMING MATERIAL]
HOST: The Russian republic of Chechnya in the south Caucasus has been mired in bloody conflict since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian forces are fighting Chechen rebels for control of what used to be one of the most beautiful regions in Russia. The conflict and the way Russian troops are fighting it, has also become a source of endless criticism for Russia's international image. VOA's Rebecca Santana recently traveled to Chechnya and reports on this edition of Dateline.
SOUND: NAT SOUND OF HELICOPTERS, HOLD FADE UNDER FOR:
RS: Residents in the Chechen City of Grozny go to sleep and wake up to Russian military helicopters flying overhead. On almost every street corner is a blockpost, manned by camouflage wearing soldiers carrying Kalashnikovs. In black spraypaint on the side of the cinderblock makeshift posts is written, "Don't come closer than ten meters or we'll shoot."
These are only a few signs of the ongoing military conflict in Chechnya, a Russian republic that has seen little but war since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Moscow has been battling Chechen separatists who say they want independence. But Russian authorities say they are simply terrorists with ties to international organizations like Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
Lieutenant-General Vladimir Moltenskoi is in charge of the military operation in Chechnya and says only a few Chechen fighters remain.
TAPE: CUT 1, MOLTENSKOI ACT IN RUSSIAN, EST. AND FADE UNDER VOICEOVER:
"Our goal of course is not to leave a single hope to the bandits. The bandits should either surrender or they will be destroyed."
RS: Russian President Vladimir Putin has said repeatedly that the war in Chechnya is over except for a few 'mopping up' operations.
But other signs indicate that peace is a long way off. Russian soldiers die almost daily in mine explosions or ambushes by Chechen separatists. Officials in the Moscow-backed Chechen government are shot at and attacked by Chechen separatists for collaborating with Moscow. And thousands of refugees still live in the neighboring region of Ingushetia, afraid to come home.
The Russian military first invaded Chechnya in 1994, only to pull out in 1996 in a humiliating defeat. The second invasion in the fall of 1999 was sparked by a series of apartment blasts that Russian officials blamed on Chechen rebels.
Now, Russian authorities say they have brought order to the region and are quick to point out signs of progress.
SOUND: CONSTRUCTION, ESTAB, GRAD FADE FOR:
RS: When construction is finished on this marketplace in the center of Grozny, it will house six pavilions. Each pavilion will house 360 stalls. This makes for over two-thousand stalls where people will sell everything from cooking oil to bathroom slippers.
The new marketplace is surrounded on all sides by the bombed out shells of buildings. Olga Magamadova is in charge of the construction project.
TAPE: CUT 2, MAGAMADOVA ACT IN RUSSIAN, EST. AND FADE UNDER ENG. TRANSLATION:
"Life is getting better. Maybe not as much as we'd like but it's getting better. The fighting has mostly stopped. Of course, there are a lot of difficulties. But it's more or less normal."
RS: But Ms. Magamadova adds that she won't go out in the evening because it is not safe and she must be home before the 8 p.m. curfew. In another part of Grozny, a small group of apartments is being rebuilt.
SOUND: DOOR CREAKING AND PEOPLE WALKING INTO BUILDING:
RS: Number 77-A on Karl Libknekht Street is undergoing major reconstruction after being damaged in the war. Before work started, sappers searched the building for mines and bombs. Empty shell casings litter the ground. All over Grozny are buildings in need of repairs. The city consists of bombed out buildings and piles of concrete slabs and bricks that used to be houses. Chechens boast that any type of fruit or vegetable can grow in their climate but the only thing growing now are weeds that threaten to take over the city.
The city's population shrunk from about 500-thousand before the war to about 200-thousand now. Unfortunately, reconstruction projects are few and far between. Amnat Batyzheva is deputy director of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration. Her responsibilities include rebuilding schools and hospitals, for which she says there is no money. She blames Moscow.
TAPE: CUT 3, BATYZHEVA ACT IN RUSSIAN, EST. AND FADE UNDER ENG. VOICEOVER:
"It's June but renovations haven't started yet, either on the health care or education or any other social projects. It's Moscow's fault. Who else can be guilty? Not Chechnya, of course. We don't finance it. Restoration of Chechnya is done by a federal body, located in Moscow. They say they don't have any money."
RS: There have also been allegations that money meant for reconstruction projects in Chechnya has been siphoned off. Russian officials strongly deny these charges and point out that the central audit chamber that audits government bodies, has found no problem with misuse of funds. Russian authorities also point out that social programs all over Russia are underfunded and not just in Chechnya.
But rebuilding is only one problem. Security is another. Ever since Russian troops reentered Chechnya, they have been accused of gross human rights violations. Human rights officials say Russian troops routinely harass, torture and kill civilians as part of their anti-terrorist operation.
Eliza Musayeva is the director of Memorial in Ingushetia. Memorial is a human rights organization investigating claims of abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya.
She says the worst violations occur during so-called 'zachistki' when Russian troops close off a town to look for rebels. Suspects are then taken to filtration points.
TAPE: CUT 4, MUSAYEVA ACT IN RUSSIAN, EST. AND FADE UNDER ENG. VOICEOVER:
"They take them to this filtration point, where they check whether they are connected with bandit formations. All this check in reality means is beating people up, torture with electricity, forcing them to sign some papers. In the best case scenario, the relatives buy them out of the filtration points. In the worst case scenario, these people either disappear or die."
RS: When things like this happen, Ms. Musayeva says the victims' families have few places to turn. Take Amenat Kuloyev. She is a Chechen woman who approached a group of journalists who were on a recent trip to Chechnya. Ms. Kuloyev says she is trying to find her son who was taken by Russian troops almost two months ago.
TAPE: CUT 5, KULOYEV ACT IN RUSSIAN, EST. AND FADE UNDER:
"I said, 'What are you doing? Why are you taking him? What happened?' And they didn't answer."
RS: The journalists are quickly whisked away from the woman into a meeting with the local prosecutor who insists such cases are rare. The Russian government arranges trips to Chechnya for journalists but closely controls where they can go and with whom they talk.
SOUND: GETTING INTO CAR AND TRAVELING, ESTAB AND FADE UNDER:
RS: The journalists in this group were guarded by twelve men from the Ministry of Interior and stayed at a military compound near Grozny. Russian authorities arranged interviews with a succession of officials who work in the Moscow-backed Chechen government in an enclosed compound in the center of town. Contact with average Chechen citizens is rare.
Moscow's critics say trips like these are how Russia is trying to limit coverage of the war, and hence criticism as well.
Recently, Russian officials acknowledged that there are problems. In March, General Moltenskoi instituted something called Order 80. Among other things, Russian troops now must identify themselves during 'zachistiki' and keep a list of people they detain.
When the new policy was announced, it was seen as an admission by Russian forces that their troops had indeed behaved poorly and a sign that they were going to deal harshly with abuse by the military. General Moltenskoi says Order 80 is being followed. But he says complaints of human rights abuses are exaggerated.
TAPE: CUT 6, MOLTENSKOI ACT IN RUSSIAN, EST. AND FADE UNDER VOICEOVER:
"You should understand about these complaints, that for any mother her children would be the dearest and the best as well as for any wife, her husband would be the best one. Sometimes they don't want to believe that these 'best' are members of a bandit formations."
RS: Officials from human rights groups like Memorial, said they were at first hopeful that the situation would change. But Ms. Musayeva from Memorial says the order was passed simply as a public relations move to make it appear as if Russian forces are obeying the law. Ms. Musayeva says she is counting on other countries such as the United States to pressure Russia to clean up its act in Chechnya.
But in the post-September 11th world, Russia has become an important ally of the United States in the war against terrorism. Ms. Musayeva and human rights activists like her fear the newfound partnership between Moscow and Washington will make U-S officials less likely to criticize Russian conduct in Chechnya.
For Dateline, this is Rebecca Santana in Groszny, Chechnya.
MUSIC: GEORGIAN MUSIC, SNEAK ESTAB, PLAY TO TIME.
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