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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Chechen envoy confirms missing toll
Russian tank in Chechnya
Russia continues to fight separatist forces in Chechnya
Russian President Vladimir Putin's human rights envoy for Chechnya has confirmed that 284 people have disappeared in the war-torn region this year.

Abdul-Khakim Sultygov - himself an ethnic Chechen - told a news conference in Moscow that the disappearance of civilians was Chechnya's most serious problem.

He also said that efforts to end abuses against Chechen civilians by the Russian military had failed and new regulations were being prepared.

Abdul-Khakim Sultygov
Sultygov is promising new measures to ease abuses
The new plans would require the military to answer to the civilian authorities in Chechnya while conducting special security operations, he said.

The aim was to help end "notorious" human rights abuses, said Mr Sultygov.

The envoy pointed out that some Chechens reported as missing had subsequently been found.

Mr Sultygov said people expected the authorities to "put an end to disappearances, looting and other violence".

President Putin has criticised the conduct of troops involved in sweep-and-search operations.

Russia, which has thousands of soldiers in Chechnya fighting separatist guerrillas, denies its troops have been involved in systematic abuses.

Last month, a leading human rights group, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, accused the Russian military of executing dozens of Chechen men every month.

Refugees 'returning freely'

Mr Sultygov, who was appointed by Mr Putin last month, also insisted that all refugees returning to Chechnya were doing so of their own accord.

Some human rights groups have claimed that refugees are being forced to return home from the neighbouring Russian republic of Ingushetia.

Tens of thousands of Chechens fled there to escape the violence in their own republic.

See also:

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