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Chechnya abuses under investigation

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The Council of Europe's human rights supremo has begun a fact-finding trip to Chechnya as new allegations of military abuses surface in the region.

Alvaro Gil-Robles flew to Chechnya after pressing Russian officials to investigate who killed 16 people found in a trench in the regional capital Grozny.

The human rights commissioner for the Strasbourg-based watchdog said he has received assurances that officials will investigate the Grozny grave and try to prosecute the killers.

Locals unearthed the mass grave just days after journalist Anna Politkovskaya returned from Chechnya saying she had seen pits at a paratroopers' base that were used to hold Chechens.

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Politkovskaya, who was briefly detained by the military for allegedly having incorrect documents, said that Chechens were held in the pits until relatives could buy their release.

She told CNN's Steve Harrigan that she gathered testimony from Chechens who claimed to have been detained in what are called filtration camps -- where suspected rebels are sorted from civilians.

Politkovskaya says she was able to confirm the stories of people thrown into pits by observing and photographing such prison pits inside a Russian military base in Chechnya, before being detained herself.

Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya says she was detained in Chechnya  

"The (two) pits were empty when I saw them or maybe I couldn't see fully because they were so deep," she said.

"But the stories about where they were held were so close to what I saw that I never doubted they were the same."

Gil-Robles has said he will visit the base if time allows on this week's trip.

The Council of Europe gave cautious support to Russia last month when it restored Moscow's voting rights after suspending them over alleged rights abuses.

The U.S. State Department's annual rights assessment, published on Monday, lambasted Russian tactics used in Chechnya.

"Numerous credible reports of human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya, which included extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, provoked widespread condemnation and calls for accountability," the report said.

Russia has admitted to isolated rights infringements in the course of military operations, but denies they were regular or excessive.

Moscow is now trying to scale back its forces and establish civilian control in Chechnya, which has been shattered by two Kremlin crackdowns since 1994.

But Moscow's Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov said there was still much work to do.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Investigation into Chechen camp claims
February 25, 2001
Chechen clashes leave 14 dead
February 20, 2001
Russia in spotlight over Chechnya
January 16, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Council of Europe
Human Rights Watch - Chechnya
Chechen Republic Online: Articles related to Chechnya
Russian Government

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