Moscow, 27 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Moscow-based human rights group Memorial today accused the Russian government of terrorizing people in Chechnya ahead of a republican referendum for a new constitution. Memorial head Oleg Orlov told a news conference that an atmosphere of fear and terror has been created in Chechnya ahead of the 23 March referendum. Orlov said that while large-scale sweeps by Russian troops have nearly stopped, incidents of kidnappings and disappearances, some of which Orlov admitted were the work of separatists, have increased recently. Orlov said only a handful of such cases are reported and fewer are investigated.
The Kremlin-sponsored vote on the constitution would pave the way for a presidential election in Chechnya, the only one of Russia's 89 regions not to have an elected leader.