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In Search Of Humanity

Chechnya
CBS
The list of alleged war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Chechnya is a long one.

Human rights watchdog groups claim they receive dozens of reports a week of looting, torture, rape and murder by the troops fighting their second war in a southern province in the Caucuses.

And western governments condemn what they call "indiscriminate bombing" of civilians and the use of devastating fuel-air bombs forbidden by the Geneva Convention, reports CBS News Moscow Correspondent David Hawkins.

"They beat me like an animal," said Magomet, a 46-year-old janitor in the Chechan capital, of his six-week internment at Chernokozovo, the notorious detention camp north of Grozny where Russian troops have been accused of torturing Chechen civilians.

"They put long needles in people's spines and feet, undressed them," Magomet recalled to CBS News, speaking through an interpreter. "They raped women and young boys. People were tortured to death."

Fighting back his shame, Magomet said the guards, whom he calls "drunken sadists," mutilated his genitals. The horrific memories, he said, make it difficult to talk about his torture.

Magomet's story is one of hundreds told to Human Rights Watch investigators working in refugee camps on the Chechen border. And his is far from the worst.

"We've documented very thoroughly three cases where civilians were executed en masse," Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Johanna Bjorken said.

A new Human Rights Watch report describes the murder of 56 unarmed civilians in Aldi, a suburb of Grozny on Feb. 5.

"A 70-year-old man was dragged into the street," eyewitness Uzbek Hadjimurov told CBS News through an interpreter. "They took all his money - about $600 - in exchange for his life. But they shot him anyway, along with my brother."

Hadjimurov said Russian authorities gave the Aldi resident a death certificate for her brother that read partly, "In the process of checking passports, a mass killing of civilians occurred."

Around 4,000 appeals are made monthly by Chechen citizens complaining of human rights abuses, Vladimir Kalamanov, Russia's human rights envoy to Chechnya, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

But the Russian government has forbidden international human rights groups from traveling freely inside Chechnya to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by both sides. Kalamanov said he is taking the appropriate steps to investigate.

"From time to time we have real facts and we are starting to work with them," Kalamanov said.

He said international organizations such as the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the International Committee of the Red Cross had mandates to operate in the region.

But Bjorkman said the Russians have done almost nothing to bring war criminals to justice.

"Of the cases we have documented, we're not aware of a singlperson being indicted," she said.

Bjorkman said she hopes the recent Human Rights Watch reports will embarrass Western leaders into taking a tougher stand.

"We think that, in particular, President Clinton's response is cynical and hypocritical," she said of the U.S. leader who will travel to Moscow Saturday to meet with newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin oversaw the restart of the war last year, blaming rebels for bomb blasts in Moscow and other Russian cities and other acts of lawlessness.

While making him popular at home, the assault has brought condemnation from the West, which criticizes the scale of the onslaught and alleged human rights abuses by Russian troops.

Renewed fighting has broken out in Grozny, where rebels claim to have launched an overnight attack and the Russian military command warned of a major new separatist offensive on the devastated capital.

Russian troops also continue their bombardment of rebels in the southern mountains, launching airstrikes against rebel positions in the Argun gorge, a key refuge for the militants. Russian troops launched a major operation against bands in the mountains five days ago, and claim to have cut off several hundred rebels.

While in Germany on a four-nation tour of Europe, Mr. Clinton said the Chechnya war was a "tragedy" which could prove "self-defeating" because of high civilian casualties. He is expected to discuss the conflict - along with nuclear arms control, trade agreements and economic development - with Putin when they meet in Moscow.

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