Moscow, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov criticized Chechnya today for what he called the "persecution" of ethnic Russians in the breakaway republic.
Kovalyov, a parliamentary deputy and stern critic of Russia's recent military campaign in Chechnya, said ethnic Russians there have been the targets of kidnappings, evicted from their apartments, and that their property has been seized.
He made the comment at a ceremony in Moscow in which he accepted one of Chechnya's highest decorations -- the order of the Knight of Honor.
Kovalyov also told a news conference in Moscow today that next Monday's elections in Chechnya are necessary but would lack full legitimacy because not all Chechen refugees would be able to exercise their right to vote.
An estimated 400,000 people fled the region after President Boris Yeltsin sent in troops in December 1994 to crush the Chechen rebels' independence bid. Chechnya's separatist government says refugees wishing to vote should return home and that transport will be provided for those living in nearby regions like Ingushetia.
Kovalyov however pointed out that many refugees live further afield, in Moscow and other Russian cities, and could hardly afford to fly home to cast their vote.
Meanwhile, the chair of the electoral commission in Chechnya's neighboring region of Stavropol called on Chechen authorities today to allow refugees to vote. He said his commission was ready to organize polling stations in Stavropol where refugees from Chechnya could vote.
The parliamentary and presidential elections are the first step toward restoring order in Chechnya following the signing of a peace accord between the Kremlin and Chechen separatists last August.