- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Ordinary civilians are now suffering the brunt of Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, making it imperative that President Bush raise the issue in the summit in Moscow later this month, Russian human rights activists said yesterday.
"Today the war is not against [Chechen] fighters but against civilians," Eliza Moussaeva, head of the regional office for Chechnya of the Russian human rights group Memorial, said in an interview.
Russian President Vladimir Putin "claims the Russian army is fighting terrorists, but for every one militant that may be caught, we've seen that 10 civilians are killed as well," said Ms. Moussaeva, a psychologist by training who has worked with Chechen refugees and pressed legal cases charging Russian troops with war crimes and atrocities.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin meet in Moscow May 23 for a three-day summit expected to be dominated by security issues such as the war on terrorism, nuclear missile cuts, the Middle East and Russia's relations with NATO.
Mr. Putin has tried to portray Moscow's long-running struggle with Chechen separatists as part and parcel of the post-September 11 U.S.-led war on terrorism. He said in a televised address yesterday that the fight against terror "has not lost its meaning" for ordinary Russians because of the war in Chechnya.
But rights advocates such as Ms. Moussaeva say they fear the United States and the West are giving Russia a pass on clear humanitarian abuses by soldiers in Chechnya. Those abuses include detention and torture of military-age Chechen men, rape, murder and destruction of property, they contend.
"I would say the attitude in the U.S. government has changed for the worse for us," said Ms. Moussaeva, who met with senior State Department and National Security Council officials during her visit to Washington this week.
"Putin declared he was a friend of the United States in the fight against international terrorism, and Chechnya seems to have lost some of its importance," she said.
But Ms. Moussaeva and colleague Bela Tsugaeva, administrator of a refugee counseling center in neighboring Ingushetia, said they found great understanding among ordinary Americans during a two-week tour of the United States sponsored by Amnesty International.
"We met with a lot kindness, a lot of sympathy for our position among ordinary Americans," said Miss Tsugaeva.
Amnesty International's Maureen Greenwood, advocacy director for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, said the human rights group is urging Mr. Bush to press for a joint statement at the Moscow summit that the war on terrorism does not excuse violence against civilians.
In addition, Amnesty International wants Mr. Bush to press the Russians for an accounting of some 2,000 missing Chechen civilians and for assurances that thousands of registered complaints about Russian atrocities in Chechnya will be investigated.
Mr. Putin has been closely identified with the current conflict in Chechnya, the second brutal struggle with separatists in less than a decade. Russian officials argue that the Islamic fighters battling Moscow have extensive ties to the fundamentalist al Qaeda network of fugitive Osama bin Laden.

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