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Watch List: November 18, 1999

18 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 43

CHECHEN DIPLOMAT DETAILS MOUNTING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS... On 15 November, Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov told a press conference at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters that Russia is creating in Chechnya "a zone of total destruction" in which "everything that moves is doomed to death." He called on the international community to take action to stop the carnage. "Why, in the case of Kosovo, was it possible," Akhmadov asked, "but in our case it is not possible?" He put the civilian death toll in Chechnya during the current Russian military operation at more than 4,000 and said that more than 200,000 civilians had been forced to flee.

...HELSINKI FEDERATION AGREES... In a statement released on 16 November, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Moscow Helsinki Group jointly called upon members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly to exclude delegates from the Russian State Duma until Russia stops attacks on civilians in Chechnya and allows humanitarian organizations access to displaced persons and other victims of violence. "A humanitarian catastrophe is looming in several weeks if Russia continues to hinder assistance to the civilian victims of the violence in Chechnya," said Ludmilla Alexeeva, who is both president of IHF and chair of MHG. "These innocent persons face illness and death."

...BUT MOSCOW DENIES SUCH A CRISIS EXISTS. Faced with mounting criticism of the war on Chechnya, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has gone into the offensive, accusing NATO of trying to force Russia out of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Writing in the "Financial Times" on 16 November, Ivanov suggested that Kosovaa and Chechnya are "links in a chain towards the creation of a one-dimensional, NATO-centred world." He also told the BBC: "I must emphasize there is no humanitarian catastrophe in Chechnya." He added that conditions will be in place for the majority of those displaced by the conflict to return home before Christmas.

RUSSIAN TV CALLS JEWISH COMMUNITY "FIFTH COLUMN." On 13 November, Moscow's ORT-TV characterized the Russian Jewish community as "a fifth column," which prompted sharp reactions from the American Jewish community. Presidents' Conference Chairman Ronald Lauder said, "We had hoped this kind of attack was relegated to the past." Alluding to the Russian Jewish Congress, which has expressed concern about Russian arms transfers to Iran and the refugee crisis in Chechnya, the TV broadcast accused the Russian Jewish Congress of working for and being financed by the West.

ORTHODOX PATRIARCH CONDEMNS FOREIGN MISSIONARIES. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church characterized the majority of foreign missionaries working in Russia as having a "destructive and totalitarian nature." Addressing a congress of Orthodox missionaries on 17 November, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said that foreign missionaries are trying to divide Russia.

AZERBAIJAN'S Aliyev REVERSES ORDER EXPELLING FOREIGN CHRISTIANS. Following an 8 November meeting with U.S. Ambassador Stanley Escudero, Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev ordered the revocation of court decisions expelling nine foreign nationals for alleged violations of the law on religion, according to Compass Direct, a news service covering the persecution of Christians worldwide. The violations raised by Escudero and four U.S. congressmen included raids by the police and the secret police on two registered churches in Baku, followed by the arrest of 60 worshippers and a court order expelling a German Lutheran pastor and eight Baptists of different nationalities. A local news agency quoted Aliyev as having told "administrative bodies" that "arbitrariness in such issues is inconceivable."

TURKMEN POLICE RAZE ADVENTIST CHURCH. Last weekend, city authorities in Ashgabat bulldozed the only Seventh-Day Adventist church in the country, according to Compass. After several raids on the church this summer, city officials notified the pastor, Pavel Fedotov, that the building must be levelled to allow a road to be built. Registered during the Soviet era, the congregation in 1992 had received permission from President Saparmurat Niyazov to build the church. But the registration was canceled after a 1997 revision of the law which requires a congregation to have 500 members before applying for official status. Two months ago, Turkmen authorities had demolished two Hare Krishna temples -- the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that state authorities had physically destroyed a place of worship.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES TAJIKISTAN FOR MEDIA RESTRICTIONS. Prior to the 6 November elections, the Tajik government quashed all but one independent newspaper covering politics, according to Human Rights Watch. The report charges that government restrictions on the media and "profoundly slanted pre-election coverage" helped make the elections "a farce." The government is not honoring its commitments to protect freedom of expression, HRW stated, and it recalled that as many as 80 journalists have been killed in Tajikistan since 1992.

YUGOSLAV PRINCE SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS HIS HIGHEST PRIORITY. "Yugoslavia must not become the North Korea of Europe," Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, the son of Yugoslavia's last king, told "RFE/RL Watchlist." To that end, he has made the defense of human and civil rights his highest priority. On 13-14 November, the prince hosted a conference in Hungary of some 70 leaders of the anti-Milosevic opposition including representatives of minority groups. They issued a statement which condemned ethnic cleansing and called for punishing those guilty of war crimes.

RUSSIAN DUMA SEEKS SANCTIONS AGAINST LATVIA. The Russian State Duma on 16 November gave preliminary approval to legislation calling on Moscow to sever all trade ties with the Latvian government, state institutions or local governments, according to BNS. Backers of the bill said that it was intended to pressure Riga to change its new language law which many Russians oppose. But the Russian government itself opposes the bill saying that it would violate nubmerous bilateral and multilateral treaties.


By Charles Fenyvesi

For those still in Grozny and its environs, there is now nowhere to go even as Russian forces appear poised for a final attack.

As Russian artillery and aircraft continues to pursue the government's declared objective of razing the Chechen capital, one tenth of the prewar population remains, most of them old, ill or disabled, reports Lecha Ilyasov, a member of the Chechen nongovernmental organization called LAM and a professor of linguistics. "For the most part, they are elderly Russians and Chechens without relatives to look after them," Ilyasov writes, "handicapped persons, members of very poor families, men guarding their homes from looters, as well as vagrants and drug addicts."

Grozny has no bomb shelters, and the basements of most multistory buildings are flooded. The water supply system has broken down. Electricity and gas were cut off even before the war. Then came a major crime wave. Now no food is brought in from surrounding areas as all the roads are shelled. "It is still possible to buy bread, matches, and cigarettes," Ilyasov writes, "but during daylight hours the markets are empty because of frequent bombing and shelling."

Yet another hardship is the earlier than usual arrival of winter, always fierce in the mountains.

Ilyasov continues: Clinics are closed, and outpatient medical services halted. Since late September, schools have been closed, as have many government agencies. Even before "real combat" began, he notes, life in Grozny was "paralyzed."

The flight of refugees, which peaked in the days after the Russians' 21 October rocket attack on a market, has petered out by now. "Those who remain in Grozny are faced with the choice of leaving the city and heading for unknown destinations, without any means of subsistence during their flight, or staying in the city and risking death from hunger, cold, bombs, or rockets," Ilyasov writes.

"People living in the villages south of Grozny, which lie outside the war zone, also have their problems," the report continues. "Despite their distance from the front lines, they have been hit several times by air raids and rocket attacks, which mostly killed women and other civilians." Since the war began and refugees began to flee Grozny and other frontline towns, the population of towns and villages in the foothills of the Caucasus range has almost doubled.

Dependent on gas for heat and cooking, the inhabitants of this region now have to cut down trees which serve as windbreaks along roads and fields. But gathering firewood is dangerous because of Russian aircraft. Ilyasov reports that in the course of a single week, air attacks killed or wounded more than a dozen civilians from three villages cutting firewood, and destroyed several trucks and tractors.

"In Chechnya today all the signs of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe are present," Ilyasov sums up. To avoid such a catastrophe, he calls for an agreement between the Russian authorities and the Chechen government which would define localities where refugees are concentrated as "safety zones" or "non-defended localities" in which Chechen fighters would not be harbored and which would not be subject to Russian attacks. Another measure he recommends is that the Russians allow the entry of food and medical supplies, to be provided by the Red Cross or other international organizations, for refugees and people living in rural areas.

Professor Ilyasov's third suggestion is an immediate cessation of "free-fall bombing and rockets attacks which are not aimed at specific military targets," as such attacks "kill mainly women, children, and other civilians." But not a hint in his carefully worded report suggests any hope on his part that in the last minute the triumphant Russians may recoil from achieving a final solution of the Chechen problem.