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Chechnya under reign of terror, say rights groups

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Nov 23 (Reuters) A human rights report published accused security forces in Chechnya of imposing a reign of terror in the breakaway Russian republic, where hostage-taking, kidnapping and torture are widespread.

A joint dossier compiled by Russia's Memorial rights group and French-based FIDH said Chechen and Russian security forces acted with impunity in Chechnya, where 143 people have been abducted this year so far. Of them, 54 are still missing.

''The abuse of human rights in Russia is not an accident, it is not the exception, it is not a lapse. It's the rule. Violence is a rule of government,'' Svetlana Ganushkina of Memorial told a Paris news conference yesterday.

The report, 109 pages in its Russian-language version, urges Russian authorities to investigate abuses in Chechnya, battered by violence and separatist conflict for more than a decade.

''The 'anti-terrorist' operation...is in fact now a policy of terror: hostage-taking, torture, kidnapping for political and financial purposes, uncontrolled violence and with impunity guaranteed,'' the report said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent Russian troops back into Chechnya in 1999 as prime minister, says that despite some abuses, law and order has been restored in the republic in a process known there as ''normalisation''.

''If we can speak of normalisation, it is only in as much that nightmares, terror, fear have become the norm for each resident of Chechnya,'' said Sasha Kulayeva, FIDH head of bureau for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

''Torture is...the very basis of the system in Chechnya. It makes possible everything else that is going on. If you take torture away, the whole system collapses,'' she said.

SUMMARY EXECUTIONS The report said hostage-taking by the security forces was widespread, torture was systematic in secret prisons and illegal detention centres, and arbitrary charges were regularly brought against innocent civilians.

Although capital punishment had been suspended in Russia, ''the death penalty is a reality, carried out in practice under the name of 'liquidations' of undesirables'', it said.

Kulayeva said punitive expeditions against Chechens were being carried out as far away as Moscow and St Petersburg, while summary executives were taking place in Russian republics bordering Chechnya.

The rights report calls for an end to torture and kidnapping, the closure of the ORB-2 provisional detention centre at the heart of many complaints, and for independent medical visits for people detained by security forces.

It also calls for Russia to allow a visit by UN torture investigator Manfred Nowak, who called off an October trip to the area after Russia refused to let him move around freely.

FIDH executive director Antoine Bernard said the leaders of Britain, France and Germany and the European Union should ''give the same priority to human rights as they give gas'', a reference to Russia's lucrative energy contracts with the West.

Reuters SBA VP0435

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