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The BBC's Jonathan Charles reports
"We have seen pictures of a mass grave"
 real 28k

Moscow correspondent Andrew Harding
"Russia has reacted with scepticism and indignation"
 real 28k

Friday, 25 February, 2000, 13:07 GMT
Footage of a war crime?

Russian soldiers
Russia denies that its soldiers commit atrocities


A man's body, tied by the ankles to the bumper of a Russian army truck, is dragged across a ploughed field somewhere in Chechnya.

Battle for the Caucasus
His head and arms flop around, jolted by the furrows in the mud.

His shirt rides up above his pale, dirt-streaked chest.

Frank Hoefling, a cameraman working for the German satellite news channel N24, says he filmed the corpse on Monday, unhindered by the Russian troops carrying out the alleged atrocities.


There are Russian soldiers which really do not like the work they have to do there

Frank Hoefling
The same footage - broadcast by the BBC and Russian television - shows the soldiers piling the mutilated bodies of suspected Chechen fighters into a muddy pit.

One body, wrapped in a carpet, is kicked from atop an army vehicle into the suspected mass grave.

BBC News Online does not have the rights to broadcast the footage.

Undisclosed location

But the cameraman will not say where he was filming, for fear of exposing his sources, who he says object to the orders they are forced to carry out.

"There are, indeed, Russian soldiers - especially officers - which really do not like the work they have to do there. Of course, they are doing the work, but they really do not like to do this."

The Interior Ministry has denied that its soldiers have committed atrocities, and dismisses the footage as a propaganda trick.

Another Russian official suggested this was the grave of Chechens killed in fighting.

But Russia's presidential spokesman on Chechnya called the film "serious", and said the allegations must be investigated.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the tape was made by journalists from the Russian newspaper Izvestiya on 14 February.

"The corpses you see on the tape are the corpses of Chechen militants who were collected from various sites, frequently far from the place of burial. It is for this precise reason that their feet were tied with wire as strings snap and that the corpses were dragged to this pit, because this is not a burial place, it is, let's put it this way, a provisional burial place," he told Russian NTV.

Bound and buried

There are no clues as to where the mass graves are located. As the camera pans up from the tangled bodies, farmland stretches off to the horizon under a slate-grey sky.

Chechen This man, pictured by Human Rights Watch, says Russians beat and tortured him
The first suspected mass grave found and filmed is filled with at least a dozen corpses, bound hand and foot. Barbed wire snakes in and around the bodies.

Jonathan Charles, one of the BBC's correspondents who has seen the uncut footage, spotted one man with his ears cut off.

He says the men in the graves clearly did not die in battle, and appear to have been tortured.

At a second shallow grave, Russian soldiers spade clods of dank earth onto the piled bodies.

Our correspondent says the men were buried with their heads above ground, so that relatives could identify the dead.

Crackdown

In another sequence filmed in the newly captured town of Goytee, south-west of Grozny, armed soldiers conduct a door-to-door hunt for rebel fighters.

The soldiers stop and search the men of Goytee, pulling down their trousers and yanking their underwear below hip-level as they check for concealed weapons.

A Chechen man, barely out of his teens, is taken away for questioning.

A student before the war started, he denies taking part in any fighting. But he admits to belonging to a rebel reserve unit.

The federal soldiers march him to a tiny makeshift cell, already crammed with other suspects. There is no light inside, just other detainees.

The soldiers guide the young man into the crowded darkness, and padlock shut the flimsy door.

The atmosphere in the town is tense and fearful - residents claim they are being subjected to an indiscriminate crackdown.

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See also:
25 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russia denies Chechnya atrocity
23 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russians accused of Grozny massacres
19 Feb 00 |  Europe
Row over Chechnya 'atrocities'
11 Feb 00 |  Europe
Call for Grozny 'executions' probe

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