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Amnestied Chechen Rebels Live in Fear

Onetime militants say the only way to stay safe is to join Chechnya’s security services.
By Aslambek Badilayev

It was three o’clock in the morning when government security forces recently burst into Dagman Bantayeva’s home in the western Chechen village of Komsomolskoye.

She stood paralysed and shivering as they ransacked the house, demanding money and gold and shouting in Chechen and Russian for her son Salman.

“They found him sleeping in the next room, beat him black and blue, put him into a car, and took off in the direction of [the town of] Gudermes,” said Dagman, whose son is still missing.

She is one of many Chechen mothers who have stood by helplessly in recent months as government troops carried away their sons, former rebel fighters who despite receiving an official amnesty from the Kremlin-backed government are tormented by the security forces.

Many onetime militants who have taken up the amnesty, given up their weapons and re-entered civilian life, say they still live in constant fear. They say officials can always use their past against them and arrest them at any moment.

Dagman concurs, "My son laid down arms in January 2000 and was amnestied because he gave up fighting against federal forces voluntarily. We were told then that no one would touch him, and he would not be accused of anything. In spite of all these promises, my son was abducted and we have no idea where he is."

For many, the best protection is to join their former adversary – the Chechen Presidential Security Service, a force of 15,000 men under the control of Chechen deputy prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov. The group’s main purpose is to search for and eliminate pro-independence militants, so onetime rebel fighters find themselves taking up arms against their former comrades.

Sources in the security services - often referred to as the Kadyrovtsy because of the vice premier’s involvement - say that, in recruiting for the country’s law enforcement bodies, Kadyrov often interviews the applicants himself and prefers if they have fought in both Chechen conflicts.

New recruits are asked to bring along three relatives to vouch for them, sources say. From that moment on, each is held responsible for the conduct of the conscript.

Adam, who asked IWPR not to use his real name, is one such former militant who now occupies a high post in the security services. An ex-rebel field commander, he even admits to taking part in abducting civilians in the period between the two Chechen wars, from 1996-1999, when a pro-independence government was in power and kidnapping was rampant.

"There is no other way out if you want to survive," said Adam, stroking his thick beard. "I surrendered, because I was tired of war and was in constant fear for my relatives. I have no other chance of living peacefully. If I am here, at least my family will be secure."

Chechen officials refused to comment on the specifics of cases involving former rebel fighters who have been pardoned, but Vladimir Barinov of the Grozny prosecutor's office said that in general there are never any “completely clean” former militants.

"All of them are more or less stained with blood,” said Barinov. “They are now trying to wash themselves clean after they join the police. They will always be checked. Who knows that they do not maintain links with their friends?

"I have information that, in the security forces, there are 86 people who are who are on the federal wanted list for having committed serious crimes. However, they are not made to answer for them."

Moscow introduced one amnesty at the end of the first Chechen conflict and three since 1999. The precise number of those who have received reprieves is unknown though unofficial data suggests the majority of the Kadyrovsty are amnestied fighters.

However, membership of the security service does not always mean that an ex-rebel will be safe.

"Many of them are being constantly humiliated by their new colleagues,” said Turko Patakhov, chief specialist of the Committee for Constitutional Rights of Citizens of the Chechen Republic. “We know this because our committee constantly receives oral complaints, but none of them dares to make one in writing. They are just afraid."

One particularly extreme case of retribution against an ex-rebel-turned-security force member concerned Alu Ismailov, from the northern village of Chiri-Yurt.

One cold winter day, as members of his family later recounted, several cars pulled up to their house. After blocking off the house and the entire street, masked gunmen burst into the room where Alu was relaxing after work. The men took him out into the street, beat him with rifle butts, and then shoved him and his brother Alasha into a car, although Alu told them that he worked in the security service and showed them his documents.

The men threw Alasha out of the car on the outskirts of the village and delivered Alu to the local police station. The next day, his family managed to rescue a severely beaten and half dead Alu from the detention centre with the help of his former colleagues.

Dagman, the mother of the amnestied gunman who was abducted, said it would have been better if her son had stayed in the forest.

"I am wracked with guilt. After all, it was me who persuaded him to return home. I do not have my boy now," said the old woman sighing heavily and looking at the road where she last saw him.

Aslambek Badilayev is a correspondent for the Zov Zemli newspaper in Grozny.

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