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Orlov: Attacks on Civilians in Chechnya "Hurt Russia"

(Washington, DC--March 1, 2002) Prominent Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov said that Russian military forces are now responding to attacks by Chechen forces with reprisals against the civilian population, a situation that Orlov said "harms my country." Orlov, joined by representatives of Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders, spoke at a recent RFE/RL briefing in Washington.

Orlov, the head of the Human Rights Center of the Russian non-governmental organization "Memorial," described one such atrocity that occurred on 8 January 2002 in the village of Chiriy Yurt. After a Russian soldier fell on a landmine, his colleagues seized the first three men they saw in the nearest village, Chiriy Yurt, and killed them. Villagers later found their bodies lying in the open.

Orlov also spoke about the growing intensity of "mop-up operations" ("zachistki" in Russian) undertaken by the Russian military in numerous Chechen villages and towns since mid-December 2001. During these operations, Russian troops set up roadblocks around a village, then proceed with a systematic search of all homes--which they loot and destroy while seizing people at random to send to filtration camps. Rachel Denber, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division, noted that her organization was about to release a report on the mop-up operations, which have progressively increased in severity since the summer of 2001.

Christine Nadori and Patrice Page of Doctors Without Borders noted that more than 150,000 Chechen civilians have registered as displaced persons in neighboring Ingushetia, while another 50,000 have been refused registration by Russian authorities--and thus are ineligible for any aid or support from the Russian government. Many of these people are forced into squatting to find shelter, living in empty farms, warehouses, caves and other abandoned places. There is mounting pressure on the part of the authorities to push these people back into Chechnya. Most, however, are reluctant to return to their war-torn country, even if offered such incentives as food and pensions.