Hundreds missing in Chechnya

About 1700 people are currently listed as missing in Chechnya, the mountain region where Russia is fighting separatist rebels, a pro-Russian official said on Tuesday.

    There has been a rash of abductions in the region

    The figure was given during a meeting between pro-Russian Chechen police and justice officials, the Russian armed forces, and relatives of some of the disappeared, the official, Sultan Salmanov, was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS news agency.

    According to Salmanov this was the first such meeting with victims' families since the start of the current war, which began in 1999, three years after an earlier 1994-96 conflict.

    Still missing

    Just in one district of the devastated regional capital Grozny 177 people were still missing, Salmanov said.

    The rate of such abductions has considerably dropped recently, but success rates in finding those missing remain poor, he said.

    Five people have been killed in
    the past 24 hours

    Local justice officials say 1814 inquiries had been opened during the past five years into 2540 cases of disappearances.

    Human rights organisations say Russian troops and locally recruited Chechen militias carry out nearly all abductions in a campaign aimed at rooting out rebels, punishing their families, or simply extracting ransoms.

    According to the Russian non-governmental organisation Memorial between 3000 and 5000 people vanished after being arrested or abducted in the past five years.

    More violence

    Meanwhile a soldier, three policemen and one rebel died fighting in Chechnya over the past 24 hours, an official with the pro-Russian local government said on Tuesday.

    A clash in the mountainous Vedeno district left one locally recruited pro-Russian soldier and one rebel dead and two more pro-Russian soldiers wounded, the official said.

    Two locally recruited policemen died in the Urus Martan area when their vehicle hit a landmine, the source said.

    In the devastated capital Grozny one policeman was killed in an explosion while inspecting a residence.

    Children wounded

    Six Russian regular soldiers were wounded in fighting, that included Russian artillery strikes in the mountainous Itum-Kale and Nozhai-Yurt areas.

    Two schoolchildren were wounded by a landmine outside Grozny.

    Chechen separatists have been fighting Russian regular forces and local pro-Moscow militias since late 1999. Another, almost two-year-old war raged between 1994-1996.

    Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed over the past decade and tens of thousands of others made refugees.



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