Can you call this anything but genocide?

Date: February 2, 2000


As Chechen separatists were evacuating their capital of Grozny in continued fighting with Russian troops on Tuesday, Chechen parliamentary Vice President Seliam Bechaev and member Tourpal-Ali Kaimov met with USA TODAY's editorial board to discuss the situation, as well as the suffering of their people. Their comments were edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why are your troops leaving Grozny today?

A: Kaimov: Grozny has not surrendered; the troops have withdrawn. Right now the Chechen army doesn't consider holding Grozny the most important thing. We've developed a new strategy on how we're going to fight the Russians.

Q: Can you describe this new strategy?

A: Kaimov: It's a government secret. ...
There's no way we can stand up to Russian air attacks and surface-to-air missiles. But we proved in 1996 that when we needed Grozny, we took it, and in one day, and we'll take it again. The only thing we really regret is that the civilian population of Chechnya is dying. Q: What toll has the fighting taken on your country?

A: Bechaev: Already we have approximately 20,000 civilians who have been killed, and more than 35,000 wounded. We have more than 250,000 refugees. And more than 124 villages have been wiped off the face of the Earth. The city of Grozny is nothing but ruins. And Russia is calling this a battle against terrorism. Not one terrorist has yet to be killed, and not one has been named by Russia. So whom is Russia having a war with? The Chechen people. Is it possible to call this anything but genocide?

Q: With Russia's elections scheduled for March, do you see any likelihood that it will reduce or stop its offensive soon?

A: Bechaev: Maybe Russia might cease some of these actions right before the election, but afterward they will continue.

Q: What do you think the West should do that it is not now doing?

A: Bechaev: It should establish a commission that would conduct thorough investigations of all of the actions that are happening throughout Chechnya, and to bring to the negotiating table the duly elected president of Chechnya and the Russian president.

Q: Are you satisfied with the response by the Clinton administration?

A: Bechaev: We are aware that President Clinton has declared his dissatisfaction with the military activities. We would hope that you could strengthen some methods of influencing Russia, politically and economically.

Q: Do you feel the West is sacrificing Chechen interests to what it regards as higher priorities?

A: Bechaev: Every government has its own strategic plans that it hopes for Russia. When you consider that the European Union parliament had given Russia three months to end the war in Chechnya, you should know that during that time you could have a few thousand civilians killed, and nobody would take responsibility. For that reason, we would like to have quick action to end this war.

Q: To be clear on civilian deaths in this war: Are civilians targets or are they unintended casualties of war?

A: Bechaev: In the territory of Chechnya, there are "filtration points," as the Russians call them. In reality, they are concentration camps. Let me give you one example in which 10-, 12- and 13-year-old children were gathered and separated from everybody else. There were 16 boys who were found outside the camp. Their bodies had been tortured and bound. The remainder of the 40 boys who were sorted out have not been found. The Russians are preventing any international organizations, any press, any other governments' representatives from getting to these "filtration points" to inspect them. This represents the mass killing of the Chechen people.

Q: Are international relief efforts inadequate in other ways?

A: Kaimov: The minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia (Igor Ivanov) recently declared that international humanitarian organizations had provided $27 million in relief. But only about $50,000 got to the refugees. All of this aid goes to support the Russian army and the continuation of this war on Chechnya.

Q: How does the Russian army take the bulk of the relief?

A: Kaimov: At first, aid was primarily going to Ingushetia and to the refugees. Now aid is prohibited from being sent there and can be sent only to Dagestan and northern Ossetia. But these are places where there's only about one-half of 1% of the refugees.

Q: So is it the Chechen position that you are better off with no aid?

A: Bechaev: Chechens need aid. But it's necessary that the aid get directly to refugees. Today the Russian army accepts the aid and is responsible for distributing it. But it's uncertain where it goes. Medical operations are being conducted. But basically (physicians) are putting sticks into people's mouths to bite down on as they conduct operations, because there are no anesthetics. This is a horror that one cannot express in words.

Q: What will the consequences of this assault be for Russia in the long term?

A: Bechaev: When something negative does happen, it sets a precedent that it will continue. Even before the eyes of the world community, everyone knows that Russia is violating human rights, and nobody can affect them. And maybe after the destruction of the Chechen people this may continue with other groups of people and other governments.


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