Ramzan Kadyrov at his father Akhmed's funeral
Disappearances and kidnappings have plagued Chechnya for years. In the latest development, relatives of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov have been abducted. The Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office has opened an investigation into the disappearance of the eight Maskhadov family members. The war between federal forces and Chechen resistance fighters is now in its fifth year, and it is civilians who suffer most. It is not known how many civilians have been kidnapped, tortured, or killed.
Prague, 1 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Chechen Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kravchenko said police are investigating the Maskhadov kidnappings, which happened in December but were only made public recently.
It's not clear who carried out the abductions, but many, including human rights activists, suspect members of the police and some senior officials.
Dmitrii Grushkin of the Memorial human rights center in Moscow told RFE/RL that while Memorial has no specific information on Maskhadov's relatives, it strongly believes the police, led by Ramzan Kadyrov, carried out the abductions as well as several others.
"[According] to the information we have, behind the majority of abductions are members of local power structures, which are controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov," Grushkin said.
Kadyrov is the son of late former President Ahmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was assassinated in Grozny in May. Observers say Ramzan Kadyrov controls a force of at least 4,000 fighters, and that the force's legal status is unclear.
Grushkin's suspicions were supported yesterday by the head of Russian regional counterterrorist operations, Arkadii Yedelev. He told Russia' NTV television that "senior officials, certain servicemen, and bandit-group leaders are taking part in abductions."
Usam Baysaev, a representative of the Memorial human rights center in Ingushetia, an autonomous republic bordering Chechnya, said he too has no specific information on the Maskhadov abductions. He said he believes it was clearly a political act to force Maskhadov -- who remains in hiding -- to surrender.
Baysaev said he is skeptical the official investigation will yield much information. "They kept them [prisoners] for some purpose. Memorial and other organizations interfered and made the information public," he said. "It was a failure. They refused to concede it then decided that there was nothing to do and opened a criminal investigation. There should be no illusions about the criminal investigation. It is a rather formal thing."
Baysaev said many in Chechnya are afraid of kidnappings and that no one feels safe. He said Chechnya has become a zone of lawlessness and abductions are some of the most shocking crimes. "You know, if we say that Chechnya is a zone of lawlessness, then among all crimes that happen in Chechnya, the most characteristic and most widely spread are abductions, which happen every day," he said.
Baysaev said it is difficult to say who is behind these acts but that the kidnappings are usually carried out in broad daylight by persons traveling in military trucks. He said this points to some level of official involvement. He said in his opinion there is only one way to stop the kidnappings: to put greater pressure on Moscow, which wields significant influence in the republic. "I know what the international community on the whole should do. It should pressure Russian authorities on every such incident," he said.
Baysaev said Western silence about human right abuses in Chechnya only encourages lawlessness. He said this silence makes ordinary Chechens feel completely powerless, forgotten, and resentful.