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Doug Ford of Physicians for Human Rights
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Sunday, 27 February, 2000, 10:09 GMT
Chechnya: 'Medical evidence' of torture

A detainee is interrogated at Chernokozovo camp
A US human rights group says it has medical evidence that Russian troops have tortured Chechen civilians.
Battle for the Caucasus

The findings come as the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, begins a visit to the northern Caucasus, where he hopes to see the Chernokozovo 'filtration' camp where detainees are alleged to have been tortured by Russian soldiers.

Preliminary results of a random survey of refugees by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reveal Chechen civilians had systematically faced summary executions, illegal detention or torture, the group said.

'Severe beatings'

One former detainee from Chernokozovowas was examined and found to have suffered a broken nose, bruised ribs and pain on the soles of his feet - all symptoms "consistent with blunt trauma," the report said.

PHR interviewed 326 Chechens at refugee camps in Ingushetia. Nearly half said they had seen civilians killed by Russian forces.

"Russia's federal forces are brutally and arbitrarily detaining civilians," said Doug Ford, who coordinated the PHR survey.

A Russian soldier searches a detained Chechen
Mr Ford said the group had medical evidence that nine people were tortured at Chernokozovo.

The camp was set up by Russia to filter out rebels trying to escape from Chechnya disguised as civilians.

Two detainees who were released from the camp and examined by the group's doctors recounted severe beatings and torture by electric shock, the report said.

One detainee, identified only as Ruslan, told the group he was beaten unconscious four times in one week.

Russian denials

The Russian Justice Ministry on Saturday again denied that atrocities had taken place at Chernokozovo.

Western leaders demanded access to Chechnya by foreign human rights investigators after the broadcast earlier this week of a video showing Russian soldiers piling bodies of bound Chechen men into a mass grave.

Russian soldiers
Russian soldiers have faced repeated allegations of abuses
But Russian officials say the film is not proof of atrocities, but merely depicts rebels killed in fighting being temporarily buried for possible later identification.

Mr Gil-Robles was to have been accompanied to Chechnya by Russia's leading human rights official, Oleg Mironov.

But according to an angry Mr Mironov, the Russian Foreign Ministry told him he could not join the party because there were no seats on the plane.

Continued fighting

Meanwhile, Russian forces tightened their ring around the last Chechen rebel bases in the country's southern mountains, according to Russian reports.

Federal artillery pounded the town of Shatoi in the Argun gorge and the surrounding villages, the Interfax agency said, quoting Russian military officials.

The Russian military says it has prevented some 3,000 rebels in the region from escaping from what the federal sources say is their last stronghold.

Federal troops are also reported to have taken control of the Itum-Kale region between Shatoi and the southern frontier with Georgia, cutting off a possible escape route for the rebels.

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