#4 - JRL 7241
The Guardian (UK)
June 26, 2003
Russian troops terrorise farmers as Chechen war crosses border
Nick Paton Walsh in Galashki
Isa Zabiyev found his brother's body in a shallow grave two hundred metres from where the Russian bullets ripped into their family car. Umar, 31, his brother Ali, 28, and their mother Tamara, 65, were driving home from harvesting their potato crop when their old car came under heavy fire from the forest. Ali, wounded, dragged his injured mother away from the barrage before running for help. When he got back Umar had disappeared.
Their story would be an everyday tale in Chechnya, where Russian troops continue to commit daily atrocities, adding to the 3,000 Chechens believed to be missing or murdered in the past three years. But it is from Galashki, a quiet village in a closed region 25 miles from the Chechen border in Ingushetia, a tiny and purportedly peaceful republic in the Russian Federation.
For the first time Ingush citizens and refugees from Chechnya are being attacked by Russian special forces hunting Chechen separatists. The Chechens and the Ingush are ethnically and religiously close, they understand one another's language, but until recently the Ingush have not been embroiled in the Chechen conflict.
Forty miles of deep forest, in which the Chechen rebels are said to move freely, separate Galashki from the Chechen border. And now Russian troops have begun to unleash on the Ingushetia's civilian population the murder and abductions that have terrorised Chechnya .
Today Tony Blair will meet President Vladimir Putin during his state visit to Britain, and the prime minister is expected to reiterate his general approval of Moscow's action in Chechnya.
In St Petersburg last month he said Russia's decision to impose a referendum in March, under martial law, on whether there should be a presidential elections there in October was "absolutely the right thing to do".
Human rights groups and opposition MPs have put pressure on him to confront Mr Putin with his forces' repeated abuses, but many suspect he will gloss over the issue, if he mentions it at all, during their 30-minute private meeting.
He will thus enforce what Amnesty International calls a western "conspiracy of silence" about the brutality in Chechnya.
In recent months the rebels are reported to have made more use of Ingushetia as a shelter from the Russian attacks in Chechnya. And rebel-backed suicide bombings have spread; a bus bomb killed 17 people last month in Mozdok, southern Russia.
Together these trends have prompted Moscow to see Ingushetia as a potential haven for terrorists and to let its troops loose on its citizens and refugees.
The Zabiyev family can testify to this. When they returned to the scene of the shooting two days later, on June 12, they found Umar's body, riddled with bullet wounds and with his lower jaw and nose smashed in, half-buried in a hastily dug grave.
Isa said an empty bottle of mineral water, a packet of Russian cigarettes and a tin of pork were found near the scene. "[Islamic] rebels do not have these sort of things," he said. "It had to be Russian soldiers".
Taste for blood
Their inquiries to the local authorities have been fruitless, they say, even though one of the five brothers is a local police chief. A group of Russian troops was reported to be in the area at the time of the murder.
It is not the first time Galashki has been visited by Russian spetznaz (special forces). Early this month two soldiers shot a 16-year-old as he walked home, seriously injuring him. One picked up his spent shell and walked away, villagers say. "These soldiers get a taste for blood, and then it makes no difference if they kill a rebel, a schoolchild, or a dog," one said.
Last year 22 people were arrested in anti-terrorist operations in Ingushetia. In 22 days this month 11 people were arrested, nine abducted, and one killed. There continue to be many arrests, according to the human rights group Memorial.
Mikhail Ulibayev, 32, father of four and the only survivor of three brothers from Grozny, was dragged from his home in the Aliev refugee camp on Sunday by masked men, beaten in front of his daughters, and driven away in their jeep.
Kharon Yasayev, 19, who had just finished his school exams, was dragged away from his classmates at Tanzila refugee camp and beaten. Neither has been heard of since.
At the Memorial office in Ingushetia Usam Baysaev said: "I fear that this is the start of an organised process, a psychological war against refugees."
The Kremlin had long tried to persuade the 68,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia to return home, he said. "They want the same terrors as happen in Chechnya to happen here so the refugees are more likely to return home."
The Kremlin was clearly in control of the abductions and murders, he said. "Before the referendum President Putin said the clean-up operations would stop. And 10 days before the referendum until two weeks after it they lessened considerably. So clearly the Kremlin has some control over what happens here. The question is, do they want to stop it?"