Human rights organization says abuses continue in Chechnya

MOSCOW - An international human rights organization said Friday that it sees no end to abuses in Chechnya and claimed that Kremlin efforts to improve the situation in the region are either ineffective or insincere.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said that the citizens of Chechnya live in a "continual state of terror," adding that it appears Russian authorities refuse to confront the problem of lawlessness - and in certain cases seem to be the problem themselves.

"The security situation remains grave and there is no end in sight to human rights abuses in Chechnya. The efforts of the Russian authorities to stem violence and end impunity are either not working or not serious," the organization said in a statement.

A delegation from the group returned Thursday from a four-day fact finding mission to Chechnya. The mission concluded that "Chechnya remains a lawless zone where violence and human rights abuses are perpetrated by a wide range of state and non-state actors," the organization said.

The Vienna-based group said that disappearances seem to be spreading into neighboring Ingushetia, and that a growing number of abductions are targeted at women.

Meanwhile, two unidentified bodies were found by residents in a well in the Chechen capital Grozny on Thursday. The bodies were naked with bullet wounds to the head and appeared to have been disfigured by an explosion. Police have opened an investigation.

Russia officials say a March referendum in which Chechens approved a Kremlin-backed constitution that cemented the region's status as part of Russia, as well as presidential elections scheduled for October 5, are significant steps in the road to peace.

But the human rights group said the referendum and elections are meaningless unless accompanied by improvements in security and human rights.

Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya following a devastating 1994-1996 war that left separatists in charge, but they returned in 1999 after Chechnya-based militants invaded a neighboring region and the Kremlin blamed rebels for apartment-building bombings killed 300 people in Moscow and other cities.