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Chechnya: Russia Denies Forcing Refugees Home

Moscow, 3 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has denied that it forced hundreds of Chechen refugees to return to the breakaway republic after Moscow shut down a refugee camp in neighboring Ingushetia. Aleksandr Rostovtsev, the Interior Ministry's head of immigration services, said Russia is not forcing Chechen refugees home from Ingushetia.

Russia's closure yesterday of the Aki Yurt refugee camp, which housed 2,700 Chechen refugees, has sparked an outcry from Russian and international human rights groups. Ruslan Badalov, chairman of the Chechen National Salvation Committee, said the fate of those forced to flee Aki Yurt is unclear. "I feel sorry for the people which will be thrown out in the winter, when, as the old Russian saying goes, a good man will not let his dog outside. And nobody cares what is going to happen to them or where they will be sent to. There is a political goal -- to remove the tent camps from the eyes of human rights activists, of the international community and journalists -- and they [Russian authorities] are trying to achieve it at any cost."

Russian officials have said they plan to shut down more of the camps. They say they are no longer needed and that it is safe for the Chechens to return home.

Rostovtsev told the ITAR-TASS news agency that his office had provided the refugees with cars and money to find new lodgings and that more than 1,000 hand already returned "voluntarily" to Chechnya.