Abductions number in Chechnya dropped

The number of abductions in conflict-torn Chechnya has dropped significantly, a top Russian regional security official said Tuesday.

Half as much abduction occurred last year compared to 2003, and the number during the first half of this year was less than half that of the same period in 2004, Interfax quoted Col. Gen. Arkady Yedelev, chief of counter-terrorist operations headquarters in the North Caucasus region, as saying.

Yedelev credited a program, introduced last year, which requires that regional security headquarters approve all raids to detain suspected rebels, and Chechen prosecutors be notified in advance of such operations.

Many abductions and disappearances of civilians have been reported following such operations by federal forces and Chechen security forces.

According to Yedelev, 513 abductions were officially reported in Chechnya in 2003, 164 in 2004 and 79 in the first half of 2005.

Human rights groups and Chechen administration officials have called the spate of abductions the most acute problem facing the mainly Muslim southern territory, where Russian troops and their local allies have been fighting a separatist insurgency since 1999.

The number of abductions reported in Chechnya had decreased but that the "more complicated situation" there had made it harder to track disappearances, said Dmitry Grushkin of the Memorial human rights monitoring center in Moscow.

If in 2001-2002 it was largely federal forces that were believed responsible for most abductions, he said, now representatives of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration's own security forces are involved.

Memorial's monitoring showed 152 people abducted in Chechnya in the first six months of this year: 58 of them were freed or bought for ransom, six were found dead, two were being searched for in places of detention and 86 disappeared. Grushkin said the group's monitoring covered only about 25 to 30 percent of the region's territory, so the real number would be greater.

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