Red Cross Calls for Answers to Disappearances

The International Red Cross appealed to Russia on Wednesday to speed up work in discovering the fate of more than 1,000 people who have disappeared in the North Caucasus over the last 20 years.

Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in an interview during a visit to Moscow that officials needed to do more to help the families of those who have disappeared to find out about their loved ones.

"Our concern is that the families affected, who have relatives missing ... get information on what happened," Kellenberger said. "If these persons have died, that the mortal remains be identified and that they are then transferred to the families."

Federal soldiers marched into Chechnya in December 1994 to crush a drive for independence, starting a conflict that destroyed the region, forced tens of thousands to flee and killed thousands more.

International groups have long urged Russia and the Chechens to track down the missing.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov presents himself as a defender of human rights and has pledged to find the missing.

Observers and aid workers believe there are mass graves scattered around the republic where most of the missing will be found.

Kellenberger said Russian government officials should take the issue of those who have disappeared more seriously.

Kellenberger said the Red Cross had handed over documents to Russian authorities on 1,140 missing people in the North Caucasus on which it wanted information, but other organizations had lists of up to 5,000. Individuals were still disappearing.

"The number of disappearances has clearly decreased but I do not think there is now nobody disappearing," he added.