Russia running ‘death squads’ in Caucasus, say rights groups
Moscow — Russia’s security forces in its North Caucasus region are running "death squads" whose brutal tactics in combating an Islamist insurgency are fuelling a new civil war, leading rights groups said Wednesday.
"We can describe their method as ‘death squads’. We shouldn’t be afraid of using this term because they kill civilians and push the Caucasus toward war," prominent activist Lev Ponomaryov, who heads the organisation For Human Rights, told journalists in Moscow. "The recent events in the North Caucasus show that the policy of the Russian authorities is at a dead end."
Russian rights group Memorial, which tracks kidnappings in the turbulent Caucasus, called Wednesday’s press conference to raise alarm over the rise this year in such cases, which the group blames on federal security forces.
"The death squads are an illegal method … Since 2000, Memorial has been tracking such methods: illegal prisons, torture and extra-judicial executions," said Memorial’s Alexander Cherkasov.
According to their tally, 79 people were victims of kidnapping so far in 2009 in Chechnya, the site of two bloody separatist wars after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
"After two years of some sort of calm in Chechnya, we have a new wave of suicide bombings, kidnappings and murders…. We’ve gone three years backwards," Cherkasov said.
Neighbouring Dagestan, a new flashpoint in the North Caucasus, has seen 25 kidnappings since February, by Memorial’s count, and in 12 of those cases the victims were murdered.
"The security forces are out of control," Cherkasov added. "Clandestine fighters exist and are active but the current anti-terror policy simply fuels the problem."
Young men in the region are systematically targeted by the police and the security forces, which in turn makes them more susceptible to recruitment by rebel groups, according to rights organisations.
The return of suicide bombings and a rise in militant attacks in the North Caucasus this summer shows Moscow has lost control, they said.
The troubled region is again in the grips of a civil war, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the widely respected 82-year-old head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
"What we see now in all these (Caucasus) republics is a civil war between the security forces and the clandestine fighters, and between the security forces and the local population," she told reporters.
"In the end, we will lose the North Caucasus. The Russian president doesn’t wish this, of course, but he has no control over his own security forces."
Violence has spiked throughout Russia’s overwhelmingly Muslim Northern Caucasus over the last months as Islamist militants wage a low-level insurgency against the pro-Kremlin local authorities.
Since June alone, 260 people at least have been killed in clashes between security forces and militants and in suicide bombings, according to an AFP tally based on official reports.
The leader of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Yevkurov — himself convalescing from a bomb assault on his life in June — warned Wednesday that suicide bombers were preparing more attacks.
In a video address posted on his website, Yevkurov appealed to his fellow residents to be especially vigilant and "check every yard."