Russia to close Chechen refugee camps

Russian authorities are planning to close 10 refugee camps in Ingushetia which have sheltered thousands of people fleeing Chechnya's war.

    There are around 10,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia

    Interfax news agency quoted

    a spokesman for Chechnya's pro-Russian authorities

    as saying on Monday

     that "a

    fter March 1 there must not be a single tent on the

    territory of Ingushetia. It is the final deadline".

     

    The Chechnya State Council spokesman added: "The main thing is that people do not live in horrible

    conditions in tents, where everything is rotten."

    Moscow has long tried to persuade the estimated 10,000

    refugees in

    Ingushetia to return to neighbouring Chechnya.

    War-devastated region

    It says the

    situation is now peaceful enough in the war-devastated region,

    although it insists the refugees need only go home if they want.

    However, rights groups and the UN have raised concerns that Russia

    has been forcing Chechens to return home, and say many people

    are too scared to go back to their homes.

    According to most

    estimates there are around 70,000 refugees in Ingushetia,

    although fewer than 10,000 of these live in tents.

    Russia has been fighting separatists in mainly Muslim

    Chechnya for nine years. It says the mountainous region on its

    southern border is returning to normal but its forces are subject to daily rebel attacks.

    "It is not refugees' comforts that worry them. They just

    want rights groups and journalists to stop talking about us.

    For four years they have wanted the refugees to return but

    the problem is that the majority are scared"

    Ruslan Badalev, the leader of the Chechen Committee of National Salvation

    Scared refugees 

    Chechen rights groups say they do not

    trust pro-Moscow authorities to protect their interests.

    "It is not refugees' comforts that worry them. They just

    want rights groups and journalists to stop talking about us,"

    said Ruslan Badalev, the leader of the Chechen Committee of

    National Salvation.

    "For four years they have wanted the refugees to return but

    the problem is that the majority are scared."

    Chechnya has been devastated by war for most of the last nine years.

    Rebel leader

    Chechens who ruled a de facto

    independent Chechnya from 1996-1999 do not recognise the

    Moscow-backed government and have

    vowed to keep fighting.

    Chechnya's most prominent rebel fighter vowed on Monday

    to continue anti-Russian attacks. 

    In a statement

    published on Monday, Shamil Basayev said:

    "I affirm that whatever the infidels attempt, that nothing

    will stop this jihad (holy struggle) which is intensified every

    day,"

    His comments came on the same day that Russian media reported several explosions hit a government

    building in the Chechen capital Grozny, injuring two

    people.

    SOURCE: AFP


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