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OSCE Speaks Of War Against Civilians In Chechnya

Vienna, March 26 (RFE/RL) - A new report on the situation in Chechnya prepared for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) speaks of growing lawlessness and warfare against the civilian population. The report was submitted to OSCE headquarters in Vienna yesterday by the head of the OSCE mission in Grozny, the Swiss diplomat Tim Guldimann. The mission was sent to Grozny last year to negotiate a settlement between Russia and separatist Chechens, but its efforts stalled when fighting resumed.

The OSCE report is critical of both the Russian troops and the separatists led by Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. Its report of attacks by Russian troops on Chechen villages concludes by saying: "These attacks against populated areas have to be qualified as warfare against the civilian population. This use of force must be assessed as being in clear excess of what could be described as military necessity." It says the most severe violation of human rights by the Dudayev side is the taking of civilian hostages.

It says both sides take hostages for their own ends. Guldimann's report says, "there is an increased practise by individual Chechen civilians to take federal military personnel as hostages in order to exchange them for the release of family members arrested by federal forces. On the other hand, federal forces sometimes sell Chechen prisoners to their families for money or weapons."

In its discussion of the Russian forces, OSCE says its receives persistent reports of lack of military discipline and criminal acts. It mentions robbery, looting, wanton destruction, extortion, arson and drunkeness on duty. It says that just last Saturday (March 23), Guldimann personally saw the officer in charge of a Russian checkpoint near Grozny stop two vehicles of the International Red Cross. They were carrying drinking water intended for the civilian population. They were surrounded by armed troops and forced to enter a military compound where the water was unloaded.

The OSCE report discusses at length the Russian military policy of driving Chechen fighters out of villages east, south and west of Grozny. It notes the parallel efforts of the Russian military forces and the Kremlin-supported Chechen government of Doku Zavgayev to create so-called "peace zones" with villages. These promise that Federal troops will not take military action against the village as long as several conditions are met. There must be no Chechen troops in the village or its surrounding territory; there must be no military activity against Russian troops; the village must allow Russian troops free passage, and it must also permit Russian troops and the militia forces of Zavgayev's government to search the village.

The OSCE report says it has received information from eyewitnesses and reliable sources that these agreements are not always honored by the Russian side. It refers specifically to three villages which, it says, have a strong pro-Dudayev presence - Novogrozenski, Sernovodsk and Samashki. OSCE says these were the object of "intense and indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces." Novogrozenski was attacked February 16-19, Sernovodsk March 3-11 and Samashki since March 14.

The report says: "According to information available, Federal troops on March 3 broke an agreement reached the day before with the village of Sernovodsk. They started a search operation in the village causing clashes with armed resistance. After the federal troops left heavy fire was opened against the village."

The report continues: "Agreements or commitments to stop the federal attack to allow the evacuation of the civilian population were violated by federal troops in Sernovodsk and Samashki." It says that while the attacks were underway, the civilian population was prohibited from either leaving or entering the villages.

It adds that as of yesterday (March 25), people who managed to flee Sernovodsk are still being hindered in their efforts to return to the village to take care of their livestock. "Federal checkpoints request large amounts of money to let people through," the report says.

It also notes information that "in Novogrozenski and Sernovodsk Federal troops proceeded to wanton destruction and systematic looting." It was such reports which prompted the OSCE comment that Russian attacks against populated areas had to be considered as warfare against the civilian population.

The OSCE report said other villages under the influence or control of the Dudayevists are attacked sporadically or indiscriminately by Russian forces. It mentions Argun, Urus Martan, Roshni-chu, Asinovskaya, Gekhi-Chu, Goyte and Komsomolskoye, but says there are others. This paragraph adds: "there are consistent reports that federal troops ask some villages to pay money to avoid being attacked." It also says: "in Grozny in the last two weeks Federal troops on different occasions opened indiscriminate fire against civilians without warning."

The report says there are indications that villages are pressured into reaching the "peace zone" agreements with Russian forces. "There are persistent reports that such agreements are forced on the local population by threats or intimidation by the Federal troops," it says. "The announcement of negotiations for such an agreement in Pobedinskoye (15 km west of Grozny) on March 19 by representatives of the Zavgayev government coincided with helicopter attacks against farmers in the area and provoked widespread fear in the village. "The fact that federal attacks against Novogrozenski in mid-February followed failed negotiations for such an agreement had an intimidating effect on other villages." The report acknowledges that "there are villages which accepted such agreements in order to avoid being involved in warfare."

The report from the OSCE mission in Grozny is also critical of the Chechen separatist forces. It says: "The most severe violation of human rights on the Dudayevist side consists of their taking of civilian hostages. This policy started in late 1995 and has become a consistent pattern in the Dudayevist warfare. The most recent act in this respect was the kidnapping of 99 workers of a building company from Rostov-on-the-Don, who were engaged in the reconstruction of Grozny. It occurred March 6, the first day of the Dudayevist attack against Grozny. The hostages were reportedly taken to different locations. Among them are ten women. Several dozens of civilian hostages had been taken by Dudayevists previously."

The report notes the Dudayevist attack on Grozny between March 6-9 and says: "this attack and the counter-attacks of federal troops led to a great number of civilian dead and injured."

The OSCE report also carries this comment: "The Dudayev forces have been reproached for launching attacks against federal military positions from within populated areas and by doing so exposing civilians to federal reaction. However, there is no independent confirmation of this information." It adds: "This alleged tactic has to be distinguished from constant Dudayevist attacks against federal checkpoints, military positions or Russian vehicles within populated areas."

Overall, the OSCE report says the deterioration of the military and political situation "has created an atmosphere in which individual freedom is even more curtailed while allowing more space for criminal activities - such as taking hostages for ransom and violent robbery." It says the result is that the border between political or military violence or criminal activities becomes even more blurred.