Security regime was imposed 10 years ago to combat fighters in former breakaway republic.
|Women protest in Grozny against Russian control of Chechnya [AFP]
Chechnya, which lies between the Caspian and Black Sea in southern Russia, has suffered amid years of war between separatist fighters and the Russian army.
Chechen separatists began fighting for autonomy after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former air force officer, seized power and declared the province’s independence from Russia.
The rebels want to establish an independent republic in the region, which is culturally different from much of Russia. The people are predominantly Muslim, instead of Orthodox Christian, and speak their own language.
Moscow first sent in troops to Chechnya in 1994, in an attempt to suppress the rebellion, but they suffered heavy and humiliating losses and withdrew two years later.
An estimated 50,000 civilians had also lost their lives in the fighting, according to Memorial, a Russian human rights organisation.
Russia initially recognised the government and a peace agreement granting the region substantial autonomy was agreed.
However, the agreement quickly broke down and the conflict started up again after a series of cross-border attacks by Chechen fighters on neighbouring Dagestan in 1999.
In the same year, Moscow blamed a series of bomb attacks that killed about 300 Russians on Chechen rebels.
Vladimir Putin, who had recently been installed as president, reacted swiftly, sending thousands of troops back to the republic and ushering in another sustained period of violence in which up to 25,000 civilians died.
Hundreds of thousands of people were also forced to leave their homes as many of the region’s towns and city’s were reduced to rubble by the fighting.
At the height of the conflict in early 2000, Human Rights Watch said 300,000 people had left their homes due to violence and human rights abuses by security forces and Chechen rebels.
As the war subsided, the authorities put pressure on the displaced to return home, and in 2004 the authorities closed the camps in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia that housed the majority of refugees.
However, suspected rebel fighters continued to stage attacks, including the siege at a Moscow theatre that left more than 100 people dead in 2002, and an attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia that killed 300 people the following year.
|Kadyrov controls Chechnya with the help of a powerful private militia [AFP]|
Shamil Basayev, the alleged mastermind of the two attacks, was killed by Russian special forces in July 2006.
Armed separatists are still fighting in mountain areas and the south of the former breakaway republic, but Russia says only a few hundred remain.
Independent analysts say there are no more than 2,000 still fighting.
In early 2009, Moscow ended its Chechnya operation and scaled down its military presence, leaving the local pro-Moscow government, led by Ramzan Kadyrov, to control the region.
Kadyrov heads a powerful private militia, which analysts say presides over a climate of intimidation and silencing of opposition.
Human Rights Watch says extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances and torture have continued under Kadyrov.
Chechnya and its neighbours are poorer than much of Russia, suffering from widespread unemployment, lower wages, and higher rates of infant mortality.
The capital, Grozny, is being reconstructed after 85 per cent of the city was damaged or destroyed during the two conflicts.
Wrecked apartment buildings are being rebuilt and the town’s heavily damaged schools and water systems are being repaired.
Small businesses are opening, the civilian airport has reopened and the stadium has been refurbished.
However, the legacy of the conflict lives on with the United Nations estimating that the region is one of the most heavily mined places on earth.