Russian troops defying rules, Chechnya's leader complains

Moscow-backed ruler says soldiers ignoring guidelines to curb abuses

May 21, 2002|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Russia's top official in Chechnya denounced yesterday the behavior of Russian troops in the republic, saying new guidelines imposed by the military to curb abuses were being flouted on the ground.

"People still disappear without a trace," Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya's Moscow-appointed administration, told reporters in the republic's capital, Grozny. "Those involved in the operations do not introduce themselves or say where those arrested are to be moved or what the charges against them are."

Kadyrov said he also took issue with a psychiatric evaluation declaring Russian Col. Yuri Budanov - the only high-ranking officer facing prosecution after being charged with misdeeds in the war-ravaged republic - temporarily insane at the time he killed an 18-year-old Chechen woman.

The psychiatric finding announced last week is widely believed to lay the groundwork for a light sentence or acquittal in the closely watched 15-month-long trial, which appears to be drawing to a close.

"We will not be able to restore order until everyone is held responsible for their conduct, regardless of rank or post," Kadyrov said in remarks broadcast on national television.

The military's new operational guidelines, known as Order 80, were imposed in late March in an apparent effort to raise accountability among Russian troops. Servicemen were ordered to identify themselves when entering a house, ensure that registration numbers on their vehicles are visible, keep public records of suspects detained in sweeps and inform detainees' families of their place of detention. Local administrators, prosecutors and journalists were granted permission to observe such operations.

Kadyrov's remarks were the sharpest criticism to date from a prominent Russian official since the guidelines went into effect. Kadyrov appears to have close relations with the Kremlin; President Vladimir V. Putin has elevated his powers.

Aslambek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative in Russia's lower house of parliament, said Kadyrov's remarks were not a commentary on Kremlin policy but a reaction to the facts in light of his responsibilities.

"Since he is the head of the republic, he and his actions are watched very closely by all Chechen people," Aslakhanov said.

Kadyrov's statements confirm reports from the region and from human rights groups that Russian troops continue to conceal their identities during so-called zachistka operations, or document sweeps, and that local officials and other observers have been kept away.

Memorial, Russia's most prominent human rights watchdog group, says it has documented the disappearance of dozens of civilians since Order 80 was announced. In two operations in Alkhan-Kala, the group says, about two dozen residents died or disappeared.

Russian military officers and prosecutors who met with human rights observers in Grozny last month did not deny that the order was being violated, but they described the abuses as "the actions of individual, undisciplined servicemen and commanders," according to an account of the meeting posted by Memorial on its Web site.

As for the Budanov case, Kadyrov said the psychiatric evaluation of the colonel as temporarily insane defied common sense.

"I wonder how Budanov could have been appointed as a regiment commander and entrusted with control over personnel and weapons if he is not responsible for his actions," Kadyrov said.

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