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The BBC's Rob Parsons reports
"At the refugee camps you won't find many Chechens celebrating"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jonathan Charles on the Chechen border
"Accusations against Russian troops have been mounting"
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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 15:20 GMT
Chechnya conflict 'must end'
Chernokozovo detention centre
Chernokozovo detention centre: Allegtaions of torture
Europe's senior human rights commissioner has called for an end to the war in Chechnya during a visit to the republic's shattered capital, Grozny.

Alvaro Gil-Robles was in the devastated city to follow up reports of atrocities committed by Russian troops against Chechen civilians.

Battle for the Caucasus
Standing in the rubble of the city, Mr Gil-Robles said: "The destruction is really massive, it leaves a very strong impression.

"It's necessary to stop this war as soon as possible. It's necessary to help this population."

Grozny: Destroyed by Russian firepower
As the Spanish diplomat walked through Grozny he saw the result of Russia's campaign against Chechnya - street after street of bomb damaged buildings.

Although the Russians now control Grozny, fighting is continuing in the breakaway republic's southern mountains.

His visit comes amid strong Western pressure on Russia to allow independent investigators into Chechnya to probe allegations of human rights abuses.

Rights probe

On Sunday, Mr Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, heard accounts of alleged atrocities during a visit to refugee camps in neighbouring Ingushetia.

Alvaro Gil-Robles in a refugee camp in Ingushetia
Alvaro Gil-Robles in a refugee camp in Ingushetia
Mr Gil-Robles said Russia had agreed to co-operate with an international investigation - setting up a joint office in Chechnya, where Chechens could go to report atrocities, and investigations be co-ordinated.

Reports of atrocities by Russian troops, which the army has consistently denied, have been mounting in recent weeks.

Many refugees claim that soldiers have summarily executed civilians and tortured rebel fighters.

The apparent Russian concession to the Council of Europe is a measure of Moscow's embarrassment over the continuing criticism.

The latest accusation came on Saturday, when a US human rights group said it had medical evidence that federal troops had tortured Chechen civilians.

Food stall in Grozny
Residents queue for free food handouts in the shattered capital
Preliminary results of a random survey of refugees by Physicians for Human Rights revealed that Chechen civilians had systematically faced summary executions, illegal detention or torture, the group said.

Moscow has also faced a barrage of criticism following the broadcast of a video last week showing Russian soldiers piling bodies of bound Chechen men into a mass grave.

However, Russian officials said the film was not proof of atrocities, but merely depicted rebels killed in fighting being temporarily buried for possible later identification.

Earlier, Human Rights Watch said at least 62 Chechen civilians had died in a suburb of the capital Grozny when some 100 federal soldiers went on a two-day rampage starting on 5 February.


As diplomatic discussions continued, Russian forces said they had tightened their grip around the rebels' last major base in the southern mountains.

However, Russian officials admitted that they would face intense and bloody fighting in the battle to wipe out more than 2,000 fighters thought to be holed up around the village of Shatoi.

Even then, one Russian general was quoted on Sunday as saying the campaign would not end all rebel resistance in the region.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Colonel-General Gennady Troshev, deputy chief commander in Chechnya, as saying the rebels could continue their resistance even after their main strongholds were taken.

He said many rebels were hiding in Russian-held areas preparing for hit-and-run attacks similar to those which forced Russia to withdraw its troops after the previous war of 1994-96.

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