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U.S. Said Showing 'Serious Concern' To Chechnya

(Washington, DC--March 27, 2001) Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov told an RFE/RL briefing today that the American government is now showing "serious concern" to developments in Chechnya.

His comments came a day after he met with a senior State Department official and with members of Congress. He said that such attention was especially important to breaking down what he described as "the Chinese wall" that Moscow has tried to impose on information coming out of his war-torn land.

Akhmadov said that in the two months since the Russian security services were put in charge of Moscow's campaign in Chechnya there has been ever more violence against civilians and ever less media coverage of what Russian forces have been doing.

When the Russian army was in charge, Akhmadov said, there was much brutality on the Russian side but far less than now.

In the last two months, he said, hundreds of Chechens have simply disappeared and presumably have been exiled or killed and put in the ever-larger number of mass graves Chechens and others have discovered. Earlier in the conflict, Akhmadov said, such graves typically contained 10 or 15 bodies; now, they contain 100 to 200 dead.

In response to questions, Akhmadov said that Moscow's decision to target the civilian population reflects the frustration the Russian government and people feel about Moscow's inability to defeat Chechen forces, which now number not the 5,000 Moscow has acknowledged but 15,000.

He said that there was no truth to reports that he or other Chechens were thinking about setting up a government in exile in the United States or anywhere else. "We are able to act where we are," the minister said.

Concerning a demand by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov today that Akhmadov be extradited from the United States, the Chechen diplomat commented that he had "never known before that meeting with the U.S. State Department was a crime" in Russia or anywhere else.