European delegation barred from visiting Chechnya

Officials from the continent's main rights body were conducting an ad hoc visit to Russia and wanted to inspect Tsentoroi, but were denied entry Monday by law enforcement officials, said Nikolai Topornin, spokesman for the Council of Europe's Moscow office.

Tsentoroi, the hometown of the late Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov and his son Ramzan, a feared strongman who is prime minister of the southern Russian province, is believed to be the site of secret prisons run by the Kadyrov clan.

On Tuesday, the delegation was finally let into Tsentoroi, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported, citing local human rights commissioner Nurdi Khadzhiyev. Khadzhiyev said the European officials visited a police base, a hospital and a school.

Topornin said he did not know whether the visit had taken place.

Chechen authorities sought to play down the incident, portraying it as a misunderstanding.

Alkhanov added he would assist the delegation in getting to Tsentoroi, saying "there are no places in Chechnya where the European Committee cannot go."

RIA-Novosti also reported that Kadyrov has ordered an investigation into the incident and offered an apology to the delegates.

Also Tuesday, Kadyrov said his widely feared presidential security force blamed for abductions of civilians had been disbanded and transformed into anti-terrorist troops that fall under the Interior Ministry.

Chechnya, a mainly Muslim territory in the Russian North Caucasus, has been torn apart by a separatist insurgency for more than a decade.