- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

MOSCOW U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson yesterday suggested Bosnian-style prosecutions of Russian generals for overseeing "executions, tortures and rapes" in Chechnya, further aggravating already tense relations between Russia and the West.
Outraged Russian officials immediately accused Mrs. Robinson, a former Irish president, of being "biased and nonobjective" and said her remarks to a French newspaper contained "anti-Russian" overtones.
Mrs. Robinson's request to lead a fact-finding mission to Chechnya was now highly unlikely to be approved, they added.
Mrs. Robinson, in the interview published yesterday, repeated statements she made Wednesday accusing Russia of "serious human rights violations during and after the assault on Grozny and other parts of the territory."
She said there were "serious and documented" complaints of "executions, tortures, rapes, violence and bad treatment of Chechen civilians by the Russians."
To the horror of the Kremlin, she then raised for the first time the possibility that Russian generals could be treated as war criminals. That would make them vulnerable to prosecution at The Hague, where an international tribunal has been trying Serbs, Bosnians and Croats accused of crimes against humanity.
"There should be no immunity," Mrs. Robinson said.
U.S. officials were similarly outraged when, in December, chief war-crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced an investigation of American generals over their conduct of last year's air war against Serbia and raised the prospect of prosecutions. The tribunal quickly backed off in the face of sharp criticism from Washington.
Relations between Russia and the West have been badly strained by criticism of the Chechnya campaign. The latest blowup came last week when Seilam Beshayev, the deputy chairman of the breakaway Chechen Republic's parliament, was invited to the State Department to discuss the human rights situation in Chechnya.
Moscow denounced the meeting as an "unfriendly step" and "totally unacceptable." State Department spokesman James P. Rubin responded that it reflected the administration's deep concerns about civilian suffering in the war.
The Kremlin had clearly hoped criticism of the Chechnya campaign would die down after Mr. Putin last week named Vladimir Kalamanov, head of Russia's agency for internal refugees, as his special representative on human rights in the region.
But that appointment and a weekend acknowledgment by the Russian military that some soldiers may have committed "discreditable actions" have done little to satisfy Western concern over mounting evidence of atrocities being committed in detention camps.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both in recent weeks provided detailed reports of atrocities being committed against civilians outside the detention camps as well.
Russian setbacks on the diplomatic front were matched by frustrations on the battlefield. In a rare demonstration of candor, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo confirmed late Saturday that Chechen rebels had managed to shoot down a Russian helicopter, killing 15 troops.
The minister's openness was probably dictated by the fact that the rebel Web site (kavkaz.org) was beaming pictures of the helicopter in flames. The interior minister denied a Chechen claim that a second helicopter had been downed.
Chechen rebels also mounted a series of hit-and-run raids and continued over the weekend to deny Russian forces control of the strategic Argun gorge, although the Chechen leadership admitted last night that they had been forced to quit the village of Daba-Yurt at the mouth of the pass.
"Fierce fighting is taking place in which the Chechen forces use the tactics of mobile defense. They dig in and fight for 24 hours and then move away," said a Chechen spokesman.
Russia's answer has been to pound rebel bases with artillery and air fire and then to drop paratroopers on key heights overlooking the gorge and another key mountain pass at Vedeno.
Russian generals remain fearful that the rebels may try to repeat the pattern of the last Chechen war when they were able to break out en masse from their mountain strongholds and eventually retake the capital of Grozny.
Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said yesterday that all efforts were being made to contain the rebels in the southern mountains.
He warned the rebels may launch a major assault tomorrow, the 56th anniversary of Stalin's deportation of the Chechen people en masse to Kazakhstan.
In anticipation, Russian forces are barring civilians from traveling within Chechnya and beefing up checkpoints in the south, Agence France-Presse reported last night.

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