War crimes in Chechnya

Concentration camps: All males between 10 and 60 are rounded up as insurgents by Russian troops.

January 16, 2000

Working in trouble spots from Afghanistan to Zambia, Doctors Without Frontiers has established an unassailable record for selfless medical service as well as accuracy of its information. When that Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization now accuses Russia of war crimes in Chechnya, its charge has to be taken seriously.

For several weeks, evidence has been mounting that Russian troops are out of control. Soldiers resorted to large-scale looting. In one videotaped case, a general stood by as soldiers piled stereo systems, televisions and video recorders on a truck.

In some cases, soldiers have killed civilians who resisted looting. About 40 villagers of Alkhan-Yurt, near Grozny, were massacred late last year. At first, the Russian military denied responsibility, blaming mercenaries. But public outrage pressured the Kremlin to act. Moscow prosecutors are now investigating the bloodshed.

Doctors Without Frontiers says human rights violations are worsening. Under a new policy, Russia detains all Chechen males between the ages of 10 and 60 on suspicion of being insurgents. They are sent to concentration camps.

Acting President Vladimir Putin should insist that the allegations of Doctors Without Frontiers are investigated. Up to now, too many responsible Moscow officials have discounted the possibility of Russian war crimes.

It is possible that war crimes are being committed by both Russians and insurgents. It's the Kremlin, though, that will be be seen as mainly responsible because of its superior forces and its indiscriminate war methods.

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