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Friday, 25 February, 2000, 22:22 GMT
Clinton urges Chechnya inquiry

Russian filtration camp
A Russian 'filtration' camp north-west of Grozny

US President Bill Clinton has added his voice to international calls for an investigation into alleged atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Chechnya.

Mr Clinton said Russia should allow international agencies unfettered access to find out what really went on.
Battle for the Caucasus

A video recording of Russian soldiers piling bodies of bound Chechen men into a mass grave has put Moscow under intense pressure to answer allegations of human rights abuses.

However, there is increasing confusion about the origin of the video report, which some Russian officials had dismissed as propaganda.

International outcry

Echoing the increasing international clamour for an independent investigation into the alleged atrocities, Mr Clinton said: "It is imperative for the Russians to allow the appropriate international agencies unfettered access to find out what really went wrong and deal with it in an appropriate way."

Russian soldiers Russian soldiers have faced repeated allegations of abuses
European leaders called for a full investigation by Moscow of the apparent atrocity.

But European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and British Foreign Secretary have demanded an independent inquiry.

The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe issued a joint statement expressing "deep concern at continuing reports of violations of human rights and humanitarian law by federal forces in Chechnya."

On Friday, Russia said it would allow a Council of Europe delegation into Chechnya to investigate the alleged atrocities.

Russia promises investigation

Initially, Russian defence officials dismissed the video as propaganda - but the Kremlin later ordered military prosecutors to make further investigations.

The footage shows bodies, thought to be of Chechen fighters, wrapped in barbed wire.

Russian soldiers are seen throwing one body from a tank into the grave, dragging another behind a truck and burying the corpses in a shallow pit.

"Until the investigation is complete, it would be too early to comment. First, one must have a clear picture when were these pictures filmed, where and by whom."

Who shot the film?

The German television station that first aired the film, N24, admitted on Friday that they had bought the video footage. Initially the station claimed that its correspondent, Frank Hoefling, had shot the film.

A Russian soldier searches the clothes of a Chechen detained on suspicion of kidnapping
A Russian reporter, Oleg Blotsky, working for Russian Izvestiya newspaper claims to have shot the video himself.

The Russian presidential spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, backed up this version of events.

N24 still maintains that the film is authentic and that its correspondent was present when it was shot.

Testing the international community

International human rights groups have said that Russian cannot be relied upon to carry out a satisfactory investigation into the alleged atrocities.

A spokesman for the US-based Human Rights Watch told the BBC the case was an important test of whether the international community would now be prepared to put pressure on Moscow to agree to a war crimes inquiry.

They just can't argue with this footage. It is entirely consistent with what our investigators have found from talking to refugees on the Chechen border

Human Rights Watch
The pictures come after months of allegations of atrocities by Russian forces, which have repeatedly been denied by Moscow.

"The Russian Government has said consistently that our reports of summary executions and other abuses were lies," Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Minky Worden told BBC News Online.

"They just can't argue with this footage. It is entirely consistent with what our investigators have found from talking to refugees on the Chechen border."

Ms Worden said economic sanctions such as the withholding of loan payments from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should now be imposed.

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See also:
25 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Mass grave video: The Russian view
25 Feb 00 |  Europe
Footage of a war crime?
23 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russians accused of Grozny massacres
23 Feb 00 |  Europe
Chechnya closed off
19 Feb 00 |  Europe
Row over Chechnya 'atrocities'
15 Feb 00 |  Europe
Russians urged to stop 'vacuum' bombings
11 Feb 00 |  Europe
Call for Grozny 'executions' probe
10 Feb 00 |  Europe
In pictures: Grozny in ruins

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