Human Rights organisations accused the Russian authorities yesterday of refusing to investigate the discovery of more than 50 corpses at a village close to the main Russian military base in Chechnya.
Vselevod Chernov, the Russian prosecutor, says the bodies were those of foreign mercenaries and many of them wore Turkish underwear, evidence that they were fighting for Chechen rebels.
Human rights campaigners suspect the dead, discovered in February, were Chechen civilians detained by Russian troops. Millions of Russians wear underclothing made in Turkey and the campaigners say this is the most absurd of many excuses made by Russian investigators for failing to identify the bodies. The corpses, showing signs of torture and military-style execution, were found six weeks ago in the village of Zdorovye near the Russian base at Khankala, close to the Chechen capital, Grozny.
Holly Cartner, executive director of the of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said: "The Russian government has focused its energy on denying any responsibility for the deaths." Campaigners believe the bodies are evidence that Russian forces in Chechnya are torturing and "disappearing" Chechen civilians picked up randomly.
Among the bodies buried near Khankala was Nina Lulueva, the wife of a judge. Last June, Mrs Lulueva and two cousins were detained by masked men when buying strawberries in a market in Grozny.
Human Rights Watch says all the victims appear to have been executed. Some bore signs of torture, including stab wounds, broken bones, scalped body parts and ears cut off. Many had their hands tied behind them and had been blindfolded. The 17 bodies that have been identified were people who had been detained by Russian soldiers.
In a sign that the international community, in contrast to the first months of the war, is now paying little attention to Russian actions in Chechnya, Mr Cartner says the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, "inexplicably failed to visit the mass grave or view the 16 bodies that had been discovered at that time". Immediately after the first bodies were found Russian troops sealed off the area and said the corpses had been booby-trapped.
The grim discovery close to Khankala is evidence that several thousand Chechens who have disappeared after being detained by Russian forces are dead.
Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, accused a unit of paratroops in southern Chechnya of routinely kidnapping Chechen civilians and holding them in deep pits until their relatives paid a ransom.Reuse content