Villagers flee Russia's Chechnya after abductions

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Oliver Bullough

MOSCOW, June 16 (Reuters) - Residents of a Chechen village have fled their homes for a neighbouring Russian region after security services scoured the area in one of their dreaded "zachistka" house-to-house searches, local media reported.

NTV television showed residents of the village of Borozdinovskaya setting up camp on Thursday in a field in Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, after packing their belongings into cars and trucks and fleeing their homes.

Their impromptu camp in Dagestan brought back memories of 1999, when tens of thousands of Chechens fled the return of war to their homeland and lived in trains, farms or open fields.

Residents told local media they were scared after troops had detained 11 young men from the village two weeks ago, in one of their periodic searches for rebels who have fought Russian rule for a decade.

"We are the smallest of people, why should we endure this? There are no Wahhabites (Islamic extremists) here," one distraught woman in a headscarf told NTV.

Human rights groups accuse Russian troops of abducting and torturing young men caught up in such searches, although they have become less widespread with the relative pacification of the region in recent years.

Russia in turn accuses Chechen rebels of being Islamic extremists who will stop at nothing to impose religious rule on the Muslim Caucasus region.

Despite Russia's claim of having pacified Chechnya, around 100,000 Russian troops are still deployed there and gun battles and explosions are common.

"We still do not know the fate of our neighbours, who have effectively been kidnapped by the security forces," one 42-year-old villager told the news Web site.

The village is 100 km (62 miles) from the regional capital Grozny, and far from the mountains -- the site of the main clashes. It is largely inhabited by Avars, members of a small Caucasus nation who live in Dagestan and are unrelated to the Chechens.

"Everyone knows which battalion conducted this zachistka ... but for some reason no one can say what has happened to our kidnapped neighbours. Therefore, the villagers of Dagestani nationality decided to flee to Dagestan in protest," the villager was quoted as saying.

Chechen authorities said they had no information on the search, but the local mayor demanded prosecutors investigate the search, which villagers blamed on ethnically Chechen special forces -- blamed by activists for most abductions.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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