Russia

Angry Chechen refugees mob European Council envoy

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By Elizabeth Piper

KARABULAK, Russia, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Angry Chechen refugees at this tent camp in Ingushetia near the border with Chechnya swarmed around a senior European official on Wednesday waving banners and shouting "help us!".

Officials from the Council of Europe, which seeks to protect human rights, were finishing off a two-day fact-finding mission by visiting the camp where some of the 200,000 civilians who fled fighting in Chechnya are living in mediaeval conditions.

British peer Lord David Russell-Johnston walked into the litter-strewn camp at sunset. A large crowd of refugees surrounded and jostled the visibly shocked European Council representative and his dozen heavily armed bodyguards.

One small child standing on a mound of earth cried out in English: "We want help". Refugees waved banners, one of which read: "Europe and the West must stop giving money to this murder."

Many refugees say they were separated from family members during their flight from Russia's campaign against separatist rebels. They live in tents, cowsheds and railway wagons. They say each refugee is given half a loaf of bread every other day.

"Please help me, we have nothing to eat," shouted one 40-year-old woman. "They can't force me to go back to Chechnya, there are no liberated zones there," she said, referring to a phrase used by Moscow to describe Chechen territory it holds.

"I'm living without my eldest child because my husband promised to come here with him, but the Russians won't let him," she said.

Another refugee shouted: "This is Russia's war, we have nothing to do with it". A woman wept: "What has my daughter got to do with this war?"

UNHCR SENDING FOOD

Christopher Carpenter, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Ingushetia, said the international agency was sending food and supplies to Karabulak.

"The conditions need to be improved," he told Reuters. "Our emphasis is really to improve the water, to improve the sanitation, to improve the sewage disposal."

"Some of the food that is being provided is being provided by the (Russian) federal government, some of the food is being provided by the United Nations," he said.

He said the fact that refugees were dotted over towns and villages across Ingushetia was causing distribution problems for the relief effort.

A researcher for the rights group Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckert, said his organisation through interviewing refugees had documented widespread abuses of human rights.

"The refugee population inside Ingushetia now almost mirrors the actual population of this tiny republic," he added.

He said Human Rights Watch had documented cases of refugees who had been sent back to Chechnya being killed by shelling during a Chechen counter offensive in early January.

"It is unacceptable for people to be returned to what is still a very active war zone," he said.

(Additional reporting by Olga Petrova)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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