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The BBC's Jonathan Charles on the Chechen border
Accusations against Russian troops have been mounting
 real 28k

Doug Ford of Physicians for Human Rights
"We have some very specific stories"
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Sunday, 27 February, 2000, 19:34 GMT
Russia open to atrocity probe
Alvaro Gil-Robles in a refugee camp in Ingushetia on Sunday
Alvaro Gil-Robles in a refugee camp in Ingushetia
Russia has agreed to co-operate with an international investigation into alleged atrocities by its troops in Chechnya.

Battle for the Caucasus
The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, said Moscow had promised to set up a joint office in Chechnya, where Chechens could go to report atrocities, and investigations be co-ordinated.

However, the BBC's Jonathan Charles says it is not clear whether the co-operation will prove effective in practice.

The Russian army has frequently denied that its soldiers have done anything wrong in Chechnya.

Mr Gil-Robles was speaking during a visit to refugee camps on the Chechen border with Ingushetia, where he was mobbed by people telling him stories of alleged Russian atrocities.

He has already called for a full inquiry into accusations that human rights have been breached.

International pressure

Reports of atrocities by Russian troops have been mounting in recent weeks.


The Chernokozovo 'filtration' camp where detainees are alleged to have been tortured
Many refugees claim that soldiers have summarily executed civilians and tortured rebel fighters.

Moscow has come under increasing international diplomatic pressure to investigate and to prevent further abuses.

The apparent Russian concession to the Council of Europe is a measure of Moscow's embarrassment over the continuing criticism.

The latest accusation came on Saturday, when a US human rights group said it had medical evidence that federal troops had tortured Chechen civilians.

Preliminary results of a random survey of refugees by Physicians for Human Rights revealed that Chechen civilians had systematically faced summary executions, illegal detention or torture, the group said.

Denial

Moscow also faced a barrage of criticism following the broadcast of a video showing Russian soldiers piling bodies of bound Chechen men into a mass grave.


A Russian soldier searches a detained Chechen
However, Russian officials said the film was not proof of atrocities, but merely depicted rebels killed in fighting being temporarily buried for possible later identification.

Earlier in the week, Human Rights Watch said at least 62 Chechen civilians had died in a suburb of the capital Grozny when some 100 federal soldiers went on a two-day rampage starting on 5 February.

Mr Gil-Robles is due to visit the ruined city on Monday.

Fighting

As diplomatic discussions continued, Russian forces said they had tightened their grip around the rebels' last major base in the southern mountains.

However, Russian officials admitted that they would face intense and bloody fighting in the battle to wipe out the more than 2,000 fighters thought to be holed up around the village of Shatoi.

Even then, one Russian general was quoted on Sunday as saying the campaign would not end all rebel resistance in the region.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Colonel-General Gennady Troshev, deputy chief commander in Chechnya, as saying the rebels could continue their resistance even after their main strongholds were taken.

He said many rebels were hiding in Russian-held areas preparing for hit-and-run attacks similar to those which forced Russia to withdraw its troops after the previous war of 1994-96.

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