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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
Russia 'thinning out' Chechens
Russian special forces in Grozny
Russian activities in Chechnya are under scrutiny
An international human rights organisation has accused the Russian military of a campaign of executions in Chechnya to deliberately reduce the break-away republic's male population.

In a report released on Tuesday, the International Helsinki Federation (IHF) alleges that Chechen men are regularly abducted and murdered during sweep and search operations by Russian special forces.

Russian soldiers in Chechnya
Russian special forces are now subject to tighter regulations

Following visits to Chechnya and the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, senior representatives of the federation say between 50 and 80 bodies are recovered each month after operations by Russian special forces.

But the prime minister of the Kremlin-backed Chechen government, Stanislav Ilyasov, rejected the accusations, describing the figures as "the fantasies of a sick man".

He said people died in clashes between rebels and federal forces, or as a result of violent crime, but there was no link between people dying and "special operations".

The IHF says its death statistics are a conservative estimate for the past six months based on research by human rights groups and reports from Chechen civilians.

The situation is more and more returning to normal, with every passing month

Stanislav Ilyasov
It adds that the corpses are overwhelmingly young and male - and describes the situation as "a process of thinning out a population of young men".

"The process by which young Chechen men are being abducted and murdered... is on a huge scale in a world context," said the human rights group's executive director, Aaron Rhodes.

Although President Vladimir Putin has criticised the conduct of Russian troops involved in sweep and search operations, Russia denies its troops have been involved in systematic abuses.

It says excesses are investigated and punished and that life in the rebel province is returning to normal.

Tighter measures

New measures were introduced earlier this year in response to reports of abductions and summary executions.

Special forces involved in sweep operations must now be accompanied by local Chechen officials, and must identify themselves properly.

But Mr Rhodes said the toll was not decreasing, despite the new rules.

The BBC's regional analyst Steven Eke says Moscow's own administrators in Chechnya acknowledge that there is little accountability for Russian troops.

He says that a new human rights envoy to Chechnya, appointed by President Putin, tacitly admitted that abuses are commonplace when he pledged to end abductions and the disappearances of civilians.

See also:

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