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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Troops cleared of Chechen deaths
Russian troops patrol past damaged houses in Grozny, Chechnya (file)
The troops said they had been following orders
A Russian court has found a group of special forces soldiers not guilty of murdering six Chechen civilians.

In a highly unusual case, the soldiers admitted carrying out the killings but denied responsibility, saying they had been ordered to do so.

A pregnant woman was among those shot to death by the group of soldiers at a checkpoint in Chechnya in 2002.

Human rights groups, who had hoped for a guilty verdict, say the outcome is a bitter blow.

Rare trial

Finding the men guilty, they say, would have sent a clear message that Russia would deal severely with human rights abuses by the military.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Moscow says that nevertheless it is very rare for Russian troops to face trial for their actions in Chechnya.

The jury at the North Caucasus District military court heard that Capt Eduard Ulman and other soldiers from a Russian elite military unit fired on a van which failed to stop at a checkpoint.

One of six civilians in the vehicle, a schoolteacher, was killed instantly and two others were wounded in the initial shooting in the mountainous Chechen region of Shatoi.

The soldiers said they made radio contact with headquarters to report their blunder and were told to shoot the survivors to cover up the incident.

They then gunned down the civilians, loaded the bodies back into the vehicle and set it alight.

A lawyer for the families of those killed says that they plan to appeal against the verdict.

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