In a letter to Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, 788 refugees said that a delegation from the Russian interior ministry had visited the Bella camp near the Chechen border last weekend and "informed (them) officially that the camp would be closed."

  

In the letter, sent also to the Russian presidential commission for human rights and the human rights group Memorial, the refugees said they had been told they should either return to Chechnya or move to one of 124 residences set up for them elsewhere in Ingushetia.

  

The prefabricated residences are being built by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

 

Threats

 

"We have received repeated threats, including warnings that they will cut off the gas and electricity, and yesterday they started removing the water taps," said Khava Isayeva, a refugee from Grozny.

  

"They come and see us almost every day and tell us that we'll have to leave our camp, either to go back to Grozny or go to one of those homes," she said.

  

Refugees said the threats were having an effect and that 10 families had recently agreed to be re-housed.

  

The inhabitants of the nearby Sputnik, Satsita and Alina refugee camps have not been put under such pressure, they said.

 

"We have received repeated threats, including warnings that they will cut off the gas and electricity, and yesterday they started removing the water taps."

--Khava Isayeva, a refugee

"The refugees do not want to leave the camp as they are afraid of being struck off the list of people receiving humanitarian aid," the president of the Union of Forced Migrants Baudi Dudayev said.

  

"These people have been diddled so many times they're afraid of it happening again," Dudayev said.

  

He estimated the number of unregistered Chechen refugees -- ineligible for humanitarian aid -- in Ingushetia at around 20,000.

  

The Bella camp received new tents last year and has a medical centre and a school, he noted.   

  

Around 98,000 Chechens have taken refuge in the southern republic of Ingushetia, of whom 17,000 live in tent camps, according to the UNHCR.

  

Last year, tens of thousands of refugees were persuaded to return to Chechnya, which they had fled after Russian troops poured into their homeland in October 1999 to put down a separatist insurgency.

  

Moscow claims that the situation in the Caucasus republic is returning to normal following a constitutional referendum last March and has scheduled a presidential election there on October 5.