Europe's top human rights advocate discusses Chechnya

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Russian television on Friday broadcast footage suggesting Russian troops had committed atrocities against Chechens, as Europe's chief human rights advocate met with top Russian officials.

Russian television on Friday broadcast footage suggesting Russian troops had committed atrocities against Chechens, as Europe's chief human rights advocate met with top Russian officials.

The film, which was supplied by the German television station N24, showed a pile of men's bodies in a ditch. The men's ankles were bound with wire, and at least one of the bodies was missing an ear. It also showed soldiers pushing a body wrapped in a blanket off a Russian armored vehicle, and a military truck dragging a dead man across a field.

Russian TV networks said the pictures apparently showed captured Chechen fighters whom Russian troops had on Chechnya, called the footage "a very serious document that demands thorough study, first of all regarding the circumstances of the Chechens' death."

"The chief military prosecutor's office must definitely pay attention to this video," he said.

But other Russian officials dismissed the footage as "propaganda" and "a falsification."

"The authors of the TV report carried out a political order," said Oleg Aksyonov, spokesman for Russia's Interior Ministry, according to the Interfax news agency. He added that "elementary logic suggests that if a crime were committed, video recording was unlikely to be permitted."

He said that the tape actually showed the burial of rebels killed in combat.

Russia's human rights commissioner, Oleg Mironov, called the tape "another propaganda trick by the rebels."

"In the present situation, when the operations of Russian troops in Chechnya are under unremitting control, hardly anyone would risk committing the unlawful acts shown on the tape," Interfax quoted him as saying.

It was unclear just what control he was referring to. The Russian authorities have so far made Chechnya off-limits to Russian and foreign human rights groups, and they have tried to heavily restrict journalists' movements.

The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, has requested permission to visit Chechnya. He met Friday with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the newly appointed human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, and Mironov.

The Russians and the Chechens have regularly traded accusations of barbarity, with each side claiming the other's fighters are torturing and mutilating their opponents. The two sides have also accused each other of mistreating civilians, using them as human shields, looting their property and summarily executing them.

Foreign governments have concentrated their criticism on Russian treatment of civilians. They have protested alleged war crimes including three civilian massacres documented by international human rights groups and the alleged torture of Chechen detainees in so-called filtration camps. Moscow has angrily denied the allegations.

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