Meeting With Ustinov, Judd Raises Abuses in Chechnya

A top European human rights official accused Russian prosecutors Thursday of foot-dragging in the investigation of several alleged massacres by the military in Chechnya.

Lord Judd, a leading member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, expressed disappointment during a meeting with Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov that authorities had failed to investigate mass graves of Chechen civilians found in five villages and towns in Chechnya, according to Interfax.

Ustinov, repeating an assertion often made by Russian officials, said the involvement of servicemen in those massacres had not been proven.

"We are also working on another theory, according to which rebels dressed as Russian servicemen could be involved in the crimes," Interfax quoted him as saying.

The Council of Europe has long pushed for more thorough investigation and prosecution of alleged abuses by the military in Chechnya. Moscow insists that all complaints by civilians are taken seriously, but human rights advocates remain skeptical.

Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov told Judd that 34 servicemen, including four officers, had been convicted of crimes committed in Chechnya since the current military campaign began in 1999, according to Interfax and Itar-Tass. He did not say what the convictions were for.

He said investigations had been completed into 12 murders and 16 thefts. It was not clear whether these numbers included cases that had gone to court.

Russian officials periodically release such statistics, but most of the cases have been tried in closed military courts. Only one -- the ongoing trial of Colonel Yury Budanov, who admits to killing an 18-year-old Chechen woman -- has been widely publicized.

Responding to Judd's concerns, Ustinov suggested they travel together to Chechnya to see the work first hand.

"When you visit the republic and see in what difficult conditions our prosecutors and investigators work, you will better understand why not all criminal cases are resolved," Ustinov said.

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours five servicemen were killed in rebel attacks on federal positions and in a clash near the village of Shali, an official with the Moscow-backed Chechen administration said.

A bus carrying police was blown up by a remote-control mine in the Gudermes district, wounding 36, four of them gravely, the official said.