Rights group meets Russian officials over Chechnya
MOSCOW, Mar 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) The head of a U.S.-based human rights group said a senior Russian military official told him on Friday that the mentality of Russian servicemen had to be changed to guard against excesses in Chechnya.
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces did not contest allegations of three instances in which Russian troops are accused of killing civilians in the rebel region.
Roth's meeting with Colonel-General Valery Manilov was one of a series during two days of discussions with Russian military officers and prosecutors.
"The big surprise was that he made no effort to contest a word of our findings. Our conversation presupposed accusations of several atrocities. But he did not admit them either," Roth said by telephone.
"He focused on what could be done to stop further actions. He opened our conversation with a discussion of the need to change the mentality of the Russian military."
Roth said the instances included killings in mid-December in the village of Alkhan-Yurt and in two Grozny districts - Staropromyslovsky around January 20 and Aldi around February 5.
Human Rights Watch alleges that a total of about 130 civilians died in the incidents.
Western countries have asked for full investigation of allegations of killings and urged Russia to stop using "disproportionate force" in the campaign.
Russian officials describe the five-month-old military campaign as an "anti-terrorist operation" and deny that troops have committed atrocities. They acknowledge that some excesses may have occurred, but say this happens in all armed conflicts.
Roth said he urged Manilov and other officials to ensure it is made clear servicemen committing atrocities would be punished. He said Manilov "agreed that this could be made to happen".
He also called for an expanded international humanitarian and monitoring presence for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Chechnya and adjacent Ingushetia region. The International Red Cross needed access to detention centers, where inmates say they were beaten and tortured.
"The big thing now is to translate what were heartening words into decisive action," he said. "The interesting thing was the closer we got to people overseeing the fighting, the greater was the willingness to overcome problems."
Roth said top military prosecutor Yuri Dyomin had denied all knowledge of the Staropromyslovsky incident and had closed investigation into the Alkan-Yurt case for lack of evidence.
He also said Russia's new human rights envoy, Vladimir Kalamanov, had told him that it was politically difficult to extend the limited mandate of two Council of Europe experts joining a Russian human rights mission in the region.