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Russia: New Measures May Further Alienate Chechen Civilians

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Russian officials have announced harsher tactics to be used in Chechnya to prevent Chechen fighters from raiding areas under Russian control. RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports that the new tactics will probably do little to prevent the raids. Instead their likely effect will be to further alienate Chechen civilians.

Moscow, 13 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian television NTV reported today that in accordance with a military order, Chechen men between the ages of 10 and 60 have been barred from crossing over to Ingushetia.

That new measure is in line with a new Russian attitude, announced yesterday by Russian Security Council head Sergei Ivanov, toward the Russian-controlled parts of Chechnya.

Ivanov told reporters in Moscow that federal forces would have to "change their tactics" to prevent raids by Chechen fighters, which are taking a growing toll on Russian soldiers. He said the new tactics include giving law-enforcement officials more leeway to detain and question Chechen civilians suspected of being what he called "terrorists."

"When [law-enforcement organs] arrest [someone] who is obviously a fighter [because] he has gunpowder traces on his shoulder, or the [suspect] is simply known as a fighter, it may seem paradoxical but Russian law allows that they be held a maximum of two or three days. That delay is insufficient for a deeper investigation -- to make sure that the person in question is innocent or whether he's killed dozens of people. Reinforcing control over people's movements and the possibility to study individuals more in detail seems essential to me."

Ivanov added that some elements of martial law could be introduced to ease legal barriers to hunting down and imprisoning suspects.

He also commented on an official announcement earlier in the week that Russian forces would systematically detain all Chechen males from 10 to 60 years of age. He said the measure would only involve checking identification of boys and men. Until now, Russian law-enforcement agencies have had only limited powers to identify or detain men who have received a temporary passport or who fall under an amnesty voted by the Duma pardoning "repentant" rank and file Chechen fighters. Such men cannot be arrested unless they are heavily suspected of being involved in the recent fighting.

Our correspondent says the new tactics are unlikely to improve the situation in the breakaway republic -- and may even make it worse. If the Security Council gets its way and extracts a license to "investigate" all males, Russia could lose what it's been trumpeting since the start of the war: the support of the local population. Moscow can hardly count on winning Chechens' loyalty if at the same time civilians are being stalked by nervous Russian militias.

Issa Madayev, a Chechen local leader, explains how actions by Russian local authorities are sapping what little trust civilians have in Moscow's rule. He is the mayor of Cher-Yurt, a village 18 kilometers south of the strategic town of Shali.

"For two or three days in a row, Russian special forces (the SOBR and OMON) started to arrest young men and throw them into jail. The amnesty that was adopted by the Duma affecting participants of the previous Chechen war (1994-96) was accepted and many young men [did not join the fighters]. But at night [Russian special forces] started coming out on their armored personnel carriers. So the local population appealed to their combatants. And the decision was made to launch an operation. Although the operation ended in bloodshed, at least it was some protection from the mayhem that was unleashed on a local level. Maybe the Russian authorities are not doing this on purpose ... Maybe they don't know a thing about politics and ideology and don't understand that this will have harmful consequences. [What the Russians are doing] makes people mean."

In another sign the Russians are losing the confidence of the local population, the pro-Russian Chechen leader Malik Saydullayev recently said he would support charges by human-rights organizations that Russian soldiers killed civilians in his native village of Alkhan-Yurt. Saydullayev is head of the puppet Chechen State Council.