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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 June, 2005, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Official confirms Chechen horror
By Steven Eke
BBC News, Moscow

Devastated Grozny
Years of war have devastated much of Chechnya
A top human rights official in the Russian-backed administration in Chechnya says there are more than 50 mass graves in the troubled republic.

Nurdi Nukhazhiyev told the BBC that tens of thousands of civilians had "disappeared" since 1999.

He said the war had seen human rights violations on an unimaginable scale.

Mr Nukhazhiyev added that figures on civilian deaths were approximate, but that the graves and who might be buried there could no longer be ignored.

The Russian government launched the second Chechen war at the end of 1999.

The pro-Moscow administration needs more money and political support to deal with the legacy of disappearances, kidnappings and murders that it says have resulted from a war the Kremlin calls "the counter-terrorist operation".

There isn't a single Chechen family that didn't suffer during the first and second Chechen war
Nurdi Nukhazhiyev
"We have identified 52 mass graves. We've been raising the question of exhuming the remains and doing DNA analyses for three years now," said Mr Nukhazhiyev, who heads the Council of Human Rights Organisations of Chechnya.

"The absence of suitable medical facilities here makes this impossible."

Shaky position

Many of the accusations levelled against the Russian authorities by human rights groups - namely the deliberate targeting of civilians by the Russian military - have angered the Moscow authorities.

Mr Nukhazhiyev, however, says many of the accusations are true.

"There isn't a single Chechen family that didn't suffer during the first and second Chechen war," he said.

"If the Russian state was interested in establishing the truth, it would announce the formation of an independent post-conflict commission."

He said the administration in Grozny had made a start by setting up a database with information on all those who have suffered or died.

Human rights groups have said the Chechen administration to which Mr Nukhazhiyev belongs is also guilty of abuses, particularly kidnappings.

Mr Nukhazhiyev denies this.

"I'm telling you directly - and everyone who knows me would tell you the same - that I'm the first to make an objective and honest case for human rights," he said.

"So I'm telling you that those allegations are both incorrect and untrue."

Some Russian analysts have questioned the loyalty of the administration Moscow established in Chechnya, stressing that its members are seen as traitors by most ordinary Chechens.

They have warned that tensions are likely to grow ahead of parliamentary elections due in the region in the coming months, and that the administration could resort to anti-Russian outbursts to bolster its own shaky position.

This would embarrass and anger Russia, which insists, despite suffering daily casualties in Chechnya, that life there is returning to normal.

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