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Was Dagestan's Amnesty a Fiction?

Fighting between police and militants continues, despite four-month-long amnesty.
By Diana Alieva
Three months after an amnesty for armed militants expired in the North Caucasus, experts are questioning whether the measure achieved anything in the region’s largest republic, Dagestan, as violence continues between local security forces and underground groups.



Reports about the killing of extremists are part of the daily diet of news in Dagestan. In the last month, reports have been aired about the killing of three extremist leaders, who apparently were planning to carry out major terror operations.



While the level of political violence has declined recently in neighbouring Chechnya, it has remained at around the same level in Dagestan.



A Dagestani police official told IWPR that Khasavyurt region on the border with Chechnya was an especially dangerous area. “We often find arms caches and bases of fighters,” he said.



Another source, who works for the FSB counter-intelligence service, told IWPR, “We’ve established that the Shariat terrorist group which the famous Dagestani fighter Makhach Rasulov used to belong to was well financed from abroad. And certainly they weren’t doing charity work. I’m struck that certain people come out in defence of these people and suggest that they suffered for their religious convictions.”



On September 21 last year, the lower house of the Russian federal parliament, the State Duma, declared a new amnesty for the North Caucasus, which covered crimes committed both by “illegal armed formations” and by federal soldiers. Serious offences such as terrorism, banditry and murder were not covered by the amnesty.



“Basically it covers a category of people who have not committed particularly grave crimes with the aim of returning them to civilian life,” Dagestan’s interior minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov told a press conference. “But we should note that not everyone understands this and some treat the amnesty as a manifestation that a weak state is forgiving everyone and return to their criminal activities.”



Official data says that across the entire region 546 people took up the amnesty, which expired in January, of whom 470 were in Chechnya and just 41 in Dagestan. In Dagestan, half of those who surrendered were in the Khasavyurt region.



“On the whole, these people were from the circle of the fighters; they sought out apartments for them; transported things,” said Angela Martirosova, head of the interior ministry press office. “Their average age was between 20 and 45.”



In contrast to Chechnya, the amnesty in Dagestan was not hailed as a big triumph. Local analysts have different explanations for why larger numbers did not give themselves up.



“This amnesty is a measure, worked out exclusively in the interests of [Chechen president] Ramzan Kadyrov,” said human rights activist Geidar Jemal. “It’s obvious that it’s changed nothing in the North Caucasus. As for Dagestan, the fight between the interior ministry and society has only intensified.”



Arslanali Murtazaliev, deputy head of Khasavyurt administration, says that in his experience few people took up the amnesty because they did not trust the authorities.



“No one wants to give firm guarantees to those who are ready to return,” he said. “And people simply don’t believe what some leaders of law-enforcement agencies tell them.”



Makhachkala resident Magomed Akhmadov speculated, “Evidently information about the amnesty did not reach all the fighters. After all, fighters don’t walk the streets and read the newspapers.”



“Amnesties announced by the authorities are not capable of returning fighters to peaceful life,” said lawyer Karim Akhmednabiev. “I think the only people who surrendered were people who had already given up fighting and who had legalised themselves in towns and villages.”



Another Dagestani expert was more outspoken, calling the amnesty a “fiction”.



Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev, investigations editor for Novoe Delo newspaper, pointed out that the amnesty was not designed for people who had blood on their hands. “Then who is it for?” he asked. “For a couple of dozen relatives of fighters, their wives or those who worked as cooks or drove them to their safe-houses? Do these people pose a real threat to Dagestan?”



“Recently several members of the jamaat [Islamic militant group] from the village of Gimri appealed to the leadership of the republic, asking the president to guarantee that if fighters from this village repented and surrendered, they would not be persecuted. The president rejected the offer.”



There have been a number of cases in the last couple of years where Dagestanis have accused the law- enforcement agencies of falsifying charges of militancy or terrorism against them.



They include the human rights campaigner Osman Boliev and Abas Kebedov, brother of alleged terrorist Bagauddin Magomedov.



Recently, the federal Supreme Court in Moscow cleared a Dagestani, Khanali Umakhanov, who had been wrongly convicted of taking part in an act of terrorism in May 2002 in the town of Kaspiisk.



Dagestani president Mukhu Aliev, who took office last year with a programme of reform, has made a sober assessment of the problems facing the republic.



“Terrorism in the North Caucasus is with us for the long term,” said Aliev. “That is so particularly because there is high unemployment in the region. Amnestied fighters will swell the ranks of the unemployed because, in contrast to Chechnya, there are no presidential regiments and security services in Dagestan designed for this part of the population.”



Officials and experts in Dagestan even differ about the most elementary information - how many militant fighters there are in the republic. Estimates range of 20-30 to a thousand.



More precise is the number killed and detained. Last year, this was 60 and 145 respectively and for the first three months of this year it was 13 and 28.



This shows that the Islamist underground is still relatively powerful in Dagestan. The authorities hope that the amnesty has at least given them greater knowledge about how to tackle it.



Diana Alieva is a correspondent for Svobodnaya Respublika newspaper in Dagestan. She is a member of IWPR’s Cross-Caucasus Journalism Network project.



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