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Chechnya: Members Of Criminal Group Given Prison Sentences

Makhachkala, Russia; 16 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A court in southern Russia today gave sentences ranging from seven years to life to seven members of a criminal group who were convicted of carrying out 13 bombings, including a land-mine blast that killed seven Russian soldiers. The group, which allegedly took orders from Chechen rebel field commander Rappani Khalilov, was convicted of blowing up four empty police cars and a stretch of railway track in Makhachkala, capital of the region of Daghestan. Its biggest attack targeted a truck carrying Russian servicemen in Makhachkala in January of last year, killing seven and seriously wounding two others.

The leader of the group, Zaur Akavov, was sentenced to life in prison. His comrades received sentences ranging from seven to 22 years.

Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights says it has agreed to hear lawsuits brought by Chechens accusing the Russian Army of executions and rights violations in Chechnya.

Roderick Liddell, a clerk at the court, said today there are more than 100 such requests still being investigated and that the court had agreed to hear six. The six cases include allegations of torture and execution by Russian forces in the breakaway republic.

Separately, the head of the Moscow-appointed Chechen government has officially reprimanded his deputy. Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov today signed a text "strictly reprimanding" Mikhail Babich for "a breach of discipline."

On 13 January, Babich criticized Kadyrov for appointing Eli Isaev as new finance minister "in violation of [Russian] presidential decrees" and accusing him of exceeding his powers. The next day, Kadyrov described Babich's criticisms as "a provocation."

Kadyrov today signed a decree confirming his appointment of Isaev to replace Sergei Abramov, who had served as finance minister for the last two years.