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#5 - JRL 7140
New trial of Russian colonel accused of Chechnya killing begins
April 9, 2003

The retrial of a Russian colonel accused of murdering a young Chechen woman began Wednesday, two months after the Supreme Court threw out a previous verdict that would have secured his release.

Preliminary closed-door hearings by the Northern Caucasus military tribunal got under way following a demand by Yury Budanov, charged with the murder of 18-year-old Elsa Kungayeva, that the trial be held before a jury rather than a military court.

A small group of ultranationalists and veterans demonstrated outside the court in this southern city, demanding Budanov's release.

Budanov's lawyer Alexei Dulimov, quoted by the Interfax news agency, said his client had gone on hunger strike to protest at the new trial.

The preliminary hearings involving the new judge, the state prosecutor and lawyers for the defendant and the victim's family are to conclude with a ruling on Budanov's demand for a jury trial and to schedule the first open hearings.

The lawyer for the Kungayeva family, Abdulla Khamzayev, has opposed the demand.

In February the military branch of the Russian Supreme Court overturned the verdict of a military court that Budanov had been temporarily insane when he strangled Kungayeva on March 26, 2000 and was thus guilty only of manslaughter rather than murder.

If the verdict announced on December 31, 2002 had stood Budanov would have been released, having already served the equivalent of the maximum sentence in preventive detention.

Instead, in what has turned into a landmark human rights case, he was retained in prison as new judges were appointed for a retrial.

The previous trial, which lasted 22 months, went through numerous twists and turns, including three psychological examinations and the dismissal of a trial judge who suggested that Budanov should be amnestied.

Budanov has admitted killing Kungayeva at the village of Tangi-Chu, in southeastern Chechnya, but claimed temporary insanity, saying he thought the young woman was a sniper.

Kungayeva was abducted from her village on suspicion of being a rebel sniper, then taken to a military base where she was raped and strangled. One of Budanov's subordinates was later charged with the rape.

The initial decision to clear Budanov of responsibility was met with condemnation from Chechens and from human rights organisations around the world.

The case is being seen as a test of Russia's readiness to prosecute human rights violations carried out by its troops in the breakaway republic.

Russian troops have been regularly accused of brutality and rights abuses in Chechnya since they were sent into the republic in October 1999 to put down a separatist insurgency.

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