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Rights Activists Dispute Russian Account Of Chechen Killings

Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov
Accounts by Russian officials of a counterterrorism operation in Ingushetia's Sunzha district last week differ from local reports of what happened, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reports.

Local police and security officials initially said that between 14 and 18 Islamic militants were killed in fighting on February 11-12. The death toll was subsequently raised to 22.

But witnesses and Russian human rights activists later told RFE/RL that four of those killed were young Chechen civilians from the neighboring Ackhoi Martan district of Chechnya who were gathering wild garlic in the forested area that straddles the border between the two republics.

They also rejected official claims that the men were killed by air and artillery bombardment. They say some were shot and one was knifed in the back.

Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov formally apologized to his Chechen counterpart, Ramzan Kadyrov, for the death of the Chechen civilians.

Kadyrov's human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhadjiyev, today called for an official investigation to establish how and why the civilians were killed.

Nukhadjiyev also expressed doubt that Russian military prosecutors will conduct an objective investigation. He recalled that "dozens and hundreds" of war crimes remain unexplained, including the massacre of civilians in Aldy in January 2000 and the missile attack on Grozny's main market in October 1999.