Human Rights Watch says Russian military abuses spread to Ingushetia

MOSCOW - Russian forces have been carrying out abusive security sweeps for suspected Chechen rebels in the neighboring region of Ingushetia that could extend the war beyond Chechnya's borders, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The New-York based human rights group said it has documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, ill treatment and looting during so-called mopping-up raids in Ingushetia, the mostly Muslim Russia republic that borders Chechnya to the west and shares a language and culture with it.

"In Ingushetia, Russian forces are showing the same patterns of brutal behavior that we've seen in Chechnya," Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the group's Europe and Central Asia division, said in a statement. "The Russian government must rein them in or risk spreading insecurity to Ingushetia."

Anna Neistat, the head of the organization's Moscow office, who recently returned from a trip to Ingushetia, said that Russian operations in Ingushetia had targeted both Chechen refugees and ethnic Ingush. There are an estimated 86,000 Chechen refugees in the region.

In one incident, Russian forces were suspected of killing an Ingush man and wounding his mother, and in another a Russian soldier allegedly shot and wounded a 16-year-old Ingush boy in the leg, she said.

Neistat said that Russian military prosecutors refused to investigate either incident despite requests from local officials in Ingushetia.

"If such arbitrariness and impunity continues, we will get a second Chechnya in just a few months," Neistat said at a news conference.

She said that a likely goal of the raids and other alleged abuses in Ingushetia is to force Chechen refugees to move back home by creating a feeling of fear and insecurity.

A spokesman for the Kremlin's information office on Chechnya refused to comment on the statements by Human Rights Watch.

Federal authorities have long urged the refugees to return to Chechnya in a bid to show that life in the region is returning to normal. The authorities shut one refugee camp in Ingushetia last fall, but international protests and logistical difficulties apparently saved other settlements from closure.

Daily clashes and violence continue in Chechnya. At least nine Russian servicemen were killed in rebel raids and land mine explosions since Tuesday, an official in the Moscow-backed administration in Chechnya said on condition of anonymity.

Despite such daily casualties, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on a trip to Chechnya Wednesday that the military had only lost 148 servicemen in Chechnya since the year's start. He said that about 1,300 rebels are continuing resistance, but firmly ruled out peace talks with their leader, Aslan Maskhadov.

Neistat said the Kremlin's amnesty for some rebels who agree to disarm and the Oct. 5 presidential elections in Chechnya wouldn't be sufficient to end hostilities.

Meanwhile, Chechnya's Moscow-appointed leader Akhmad Kadyrov, a top candidate for winning the presidency in October, said Wednesday that he was talking through intermediaries to a prominent rebel warlord Ruslan Gelayev about conditions for his surrender.