ROSTOV-ON-DON - A prosecutor in the first high-profile trial of a Russian military officer accused of murdering a Chechen civilian called Tuesday for the defendant to be sentenced to three years in prison but be made eligible for immediate amnesty.
Prosecutor Sergei Nazarov said that Col. Yuri Budanov should be found guilty of abducting and killing 18-year-old Heda Kungayeva. However, he said that the murder charge should be thrown out, because psychiatrists had found Budanov insane at the time of the slaying.
"Budanov killed Elza Kungayeva as revenge against the rebels and against her parents, whom he considered rebels," Nazarov told the court.
Kungayeva was known as Heda at home, where the family spoke Chechen, but as Elza on her official, Russian-language identity documents.
Budanov is the first Russian officer to face a public trial for alleged military crimes in Chechnya, and the proceedings have been closely watched in Russia and by international human rights groups.
"This means that war crimes in Chechnya will go unpunished," Tatyana Kasatkina, a director of the Memorial human rights monitoring group in Moscow, said of the prosecutor's proposed sentence. "It means that there's no political will to solve the problem of Chechnya."
The trial began in February 2001 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and has suffered frequent delays. Russian nationalists, meanwhile, have made Budanov their hero, gathering outside the court in Rostov-on-Don, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Moscow, to cheer him on.
Budanov has admitted strangling Kungayeva but says he killed her in a rage while interrogating her because he thought she was a rebel sniper.
Psychiatrists at Russia's leading psychiatric institute supported Budanov's contention of temporary insanity, but human rights activists and independent experts said the diagnosis was the result of heavy government pressure.
Kungayeva's family denies she was a sniper, and says she was dragged from her home at night, raped and murdered during a drunken rampage by soldiers. Budanov was initially accused of rape, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Lawyers for Kungayeva's family say forensic experts who examined the victim's body found evidence of rape but that the military covered it up.
Russian troops are embroiled in the second war in Chechnya in a decade. Rebels conduct daily raids and ambushes on Russian troops and Moscow-appointed local officials, and Russian troops have been accused of widespread abuses of civilians including long-term detentions, looting, torture and killing.