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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Troops jailed for Chechnya murder
Russian troops in Chechnya (file pic)
Russia maintains a heavy troop presence in volatile Chechnya
A military court in southern Russia has sentenced four soldiers to prison terms for murdering six Chechen civilians.

Just one of those convicted was in court in Rostov-on-Don - Maj Alexei Perelevsky. The others had vanished and were tried in absentia.

In a rare conviction for Russian soldiers, they were found guilty of opening fire on a van in Chechnya, killing the driver and five passengers.

The special forces troops received terms ranging from nine to 14 years.

Two separate juries had earlier acquitted the men in the so-called "Ulman" case, but those verdicts were overturned by higher courts.

Chechnya map
The incident happened near Dai, a village in the Shatoi region of the war-ravaged North Caucasus republic, in January 2002.

The investigation showed that one Chechen died and two were wounded in the initial shooting, when the troops opened fire on the van.

But the other five Chechens were shot dead after the order was given to destroy all the evidence, the investigation found. A head teacher and a pregnant woman were among the victims.

The case has caused great bitterness and controversy in Russia - especially among Chechens, the BBC's James Rodgers reports from Moscow.

Chechnya was devastated by heavy fighting that started in 1994 when Russian troops first poured in to crush a separatist movement.

Russia has seen few such trials for abuses committed in Chechnya - abuses which have drawn international condemnation.

Yuri Budanov was the first Russian officer to be prosecuted for a crime against a civilian in Chechnya. He was jailed for 10 years in 2003 for strangling a Chechen girl to death.

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