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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
A Chechen mother's painful search
By Emma Simpson
BBC News, Moscow

Fatima Bazorkina
Fatima Bazorkina has spent six years searching for the truth

Six years on since her son disappeared, Fatima Bazorkina still finds it difficult to watch the television footage which is at the centre of a landmark court case.

She dabs her eyes with her handkerchief as a Russian general calls on his fellow officers to shoot her son.

Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev was a sociology student at Moscow University who left for Chechnya in 1999 before sitting his final exams. The second Chechen war had begun.

Television journalists were following Russian forces as they captured a group of Chechen rebels who were sheltering in the village of Alkhan-Kala.

Order to shoot

The soldier in charge, later identified as General Alexander Baranov, can be seen questioning Khadzhi-Murat, dressed in camouflage. His words are barely audible, but there is no mistaking the general's final words:

Russian soldiers with Chechen captives
The Chechen captives were shown in television footage
"Take him away, damn it, finish him off there - that's the whole order. Get him out of here, damn it. Come on, come one, come on, do it, take him away, finish him off, shoot him, damn it! "

Khadzhi-Murat is then being seen led away.

His mother only realised he was missing when she saw his pictures on television.

"If I hadn't seen my son that day on the news I would never have found out what happened to him. It was a shock for all the family. Even my sick sister started to scream: that's him, that's him!

"He was among other detained people - there were fighters and civilians in that group. It happened after the Russian forces created a corridor for people to leave Grozny, but for some reason this was through a minefield. There were a lot of wounded people, and my son was wounded too. I could see that his leg was hurt and that a Russian officer twice kicked my son during the interrogation."

That was when Fatima Bazorkina's long search for her son began. Along with the mothers of other missing Chechen men, she visited detention centres and prisons and tried repeatedly to persuade Russian prosecutors to investigate the case, all to no avail.

"During the search, the only thing I wanted to find out was the truth. That was important. To find out the fate of my son. If he was killed - for what reasons?" she said.

Disappearances

Fatima claims the Russian government violated the European Convention on Human Rights. She accuses federal troops of killing her son and says the authorities failed to adequately investigate the case.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Thursday backed her arguments, ruling that Russia had violated the convention.

Thousands of people are believed to have disappeared after encounters with Russian troops since the start of the 1999 Chechen conflict. But there has only been one successful prosecution.

What is unusual about this case is that the alleged execution order was caught on tape.

Fatima's lawyers believe today's judgement could set an important precedent, as several hundred other similar cases from this troubled republic are waiting to be heard.

The Russian authorities contend that there was no formal order to kill Khadzhi-Murat that day. General Baranov was simply trying to take control of a difficult situation. They also say there is no evidence to prove that he is dead.

The general has since been promoted and is now in charge of all Russian troops in the northern Caucasus.




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