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Chechnya: Mountain Terror

Residents of sparsely populated mountain district accuse federal troops of night-time abductions.
By Asya Umarova
High in the mountains of Chechnya, on the border with Dagestan and Georgia, the Sharoi region used to be one of the most peaceful in the republic.

This is the most inaccessible parts of Chechnya, with narrow paths threading along cliffs and rivers winding below. Bears and wolves come out of the thick forests to attack cattle. The occasional houses, perched on high ground, are situated far from one another and only the villages of Sharoi and Kiri contain a dozen houses grouped together.

During the first Chechen war of 1994-6, the fighting did not reach here. But as the conflict that re-started in 1999 has ebbed, violence has actually increased in the Sharoi district.

“Since 2004 men in masks have been bursting into our houses and taking people away,” said Tumisha, a local resident. “They are federal soldiers. And the explosions don’t stop. Every month, we hear that there was a battle here, someone was abducted there. It’s frightening to live here.”

Tumisha wants to leave her home district. “This will carry on for a long time,” she said. “They won’t calm down because they think that we are helping rebels. The people they take away come back beaten and crippled.

Military activity appears to have been stepped up in the highlands of Chechnya, on the apparent assumption that remaining rebel fighters are now concentrated there - but it is mainly the civilian population that is suffering the results.

In the neighbouring Shatoi district on December 1, a bombing raid on the village of Sharo-Argun wounded two locals and left one woman with concussion. One house was completely destroyed and others were badly damaged. The local prosecutor’s office has begun an investigation but the military has denied that the incident took place.

In Sharoi, in the last eight months, more than 20 people have been abducted from this sparsely populated district.

A resident of Kiri recalls what happened on the night of October 15. “We woke up from a terrible burst of shooting next door,” she said. “Around 20 armed men in three cars crashed into the house of Seibula Mukuyev.

“They didn’t just beat him but also his teenage children and his poor wife who had just had an operation.”

Other villagers came out to help the Mukuyev family. The first to intervene was 33-year-old Sultan Musalov, who serves in Chechnya security forces. Locals said he showed the armed men his documents but he was seized, taken away and has not been seen to this day.

The villagers blame Russian federal troops for the abductions and have appealed to the parliament and local government in Grozny for support. The parliamentarians invited General Grigory Fomenko, military commander for Chechnya, to discuss the issue but he did not come to the session.

“There hasn’t been a positive answer, we only know that they are doing an investigation,” said Rasul Musalov, prefect of the Sharoi district. “There’s been an increasing number of abductions recently and we are determined to take measures to curb the federal soldiers.”

The district authorities have asked for additional Chechen policemen to man roadblocks on the 68-km-long road, because the isolated settlements are vulnerable to night-time raids.

Seven years ago, the Sharoi district had a population of 4,900 people, but now the number has dropped to 3,200. “It is because of internal migration, people cannot live here because of a lack of basic conditions,” said Musalov. “A lot of villages don’t have electricity, many of them don’t have gas, there are no roads and people are afraid to live here because of the growing number of abductions.”

On November 10, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev hosted a meeting of the heads of mountain districts, human rights monitors and security commanders to discuss what he called ever more frequent “unauthorised raids by federal soldiers”.

“First of all the meeting was held because of the constant firing of mortars in the mountains,” said Nukhazhiev. “The [federal] commander, Colonel-General Yevgeny Barayev, who is responsible for the mountain area, explained that a certain number of rebels had withdrawn to these parts and [his soldiers] were firing at them with artillery to stop them making a base for the winter.

“We strongly disagree with this point of view. They are using cannons to fire at sparrows.

“The population cannot agree with security services’ position - and I think Vladimir Putin doesn’t either.”

Asya Umarova is a reporter for Chechenskoe Obshchestvo newspaper.

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