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Russian Federation: Chechen Republic: fear for safety: civilians in Sernovodsk

, Index number: EUR 46/013/1996

AI is gravely concerned about reports of civilian casualties as the Russian federal forces continue an intensive artillery attack on the village of Sernovodsk.

EXTERNAL AI Index: EUR 46/13/96
EXTRA 34/96 Fear for safety 7 March 1996
CHECHEN REPUBLIC - RUSSIAN FEDERATIONCivilians in Sernovodsk
Amnesty International is gravely concerned about reports of civilian casualties
as the Russian federal forces continue an intensive artillery attack on the
village of Sernovodsk. Since the bombardment began on 3 March 1996, at least
30 civilians have been killed and at least 35 people injured, including women,
children and old people, although the number of casualties is believed to be
much higher.
Reports from NGOs working in the region suggest that the assault has been carried
out without concern for the lives of the civilian population trapped in the
village, where the Russian forces say Chechen fighters have set up a base.
On 5 March Russian TV reported that all civilians who wanted to leave Sernovodsk
had been evacuated the previous day. The International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Centre
for Peacemaking stated that this was not true. ICRC representatives have not
yet been permitted access to the village, and no medical supplies have been
allowed in.
There are a large number of displaced persons and refugees living in Sernovodsk,
forced to leave their homes as a result of the Chechen war. Since the beginning
of the attack, between 10,000 and 16,000 people are believed to have fled
Sernovodsk and found shelter in neighbouring Ingushetia. However, many
thousands of people are believed to have remained in the village. One small
group of Chechen women carrying a white flag were allowed in on 4 March to
bring out children. On 5 March, one ambulance was reportedly allowed into
Sernovodsk to bring people out. Men aged between 15 and 55 are not being allowed
out, and it was also reported that the Russian forces are not allowing anybody
into Sernovodsk.
Helicopter gunships are reported to be continuing the Russian assault. On
5 March there were heavy artillery, rocket and shell attacks all day, and many
buildings in Sernovodsk were reported burning.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
According to representatives of international humanitarian organizations, and
some of those who have fled the town during the last three days, the federal
forces began intensive artillery and shell attacks on Sernovodsk from 6.30am
on 3 March. They entered the town in armoured personnel carriers early in the
morning from the Samashki road and drove around the town. Eyewitnesses reported
that federal forces opened fire on a car, killing the three male passengers,
and destroyed several buildings. Clashes with armed local inhabitants were
also reported. One woman and three children were reportedly killed when Russian
snipers opened fire on them as they walked from a sanatorium, situated on a
hillside overlooking Sernovodsk, towards Sleptsovsk.
The sanatorium complex, where over 1,000 refugees from villages in western
Chechnya and from Novogroznenski were living, suffered exceptionally heavy
bombing on 4 March. Many reportedly sought protection in the basement of the
largest building, but reports of those leaving Sernovodsk suggest that many
were killed there. No evacuation of refugees from the sanatorium complex was
carried out. It was reported that two women were killed on 4 March when they
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stepped on a mine near the Russian military checkpoint on leaving Sernovodsk
for Sleptsovsk.
Members of the Center for Peacemaking interviewed refugees arriving in
Sleptsovsk from Sernovodsk on 4 March and succeeded in compiling a list of
20 names and addresses of people killed. Most died in or near their homes
from artillery attacks. Nineteen bodies of civilians were brought to the mosque
in Sernovodsk on 4 March. Many others were buried in gardens immediately by
relatives. Relatives of those killed are not being allowed into the town to
bury them. The IOM registered 35 injured people from Sernovodsk who were brought
out and taken to the hospital in Sleptsovsk. Refugees report that many of the
injured are still in Sernovodsk.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
Russian or your own language:
- calling for respect of the provisions of the Geneva Convention relating to
the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and for all steps to be taken
to protect unarmed civilians remaining in Sernovodsk;
- urging that immediate access into Sernovodsk be granted to members of the
ICRC in order to ensure safe passage of all civilians, especially the wounded,
out of the Sernovodsk;
if possible, please also:
- call on the Russian Government to comply with its commitments on respect
for human rights, given to the Council of Europe upon Russia's acceptance to
the Council in February 1996, including the commitment to "respect strictly
the provisions of international humanitarian law, including in cases of armed
conflicts on its territory";
- urge the Russian Government to comply with its commitments to protect human
rights in times of armed conflicts, given to the Organisation for Security
and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), when Russia signed the OSCE Code of Conduct
on Politico-Military Aspects of Security in December 1994.
APPEALS TO:
President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin
Russiyskaya Federatsiya
g. Moskva
Kreml
Presidentu Rossiyskoy Federatsii
Yeltsinu B.N.
Faxes: +7095 206 5173
Telegrams: Rossiya, Moskva, Kreml, Prezidentu Yeltsinu
Salutation: Dear President
President's Special Envoy in Chechnya, Oleg Lobov
Faxes: +7095 206 0717
COPIES TO:
Russian Federation Minister of Internal Affairs, Col.-Gen. Anatoly Kulikov
Rossiyskaya Federatsiya
117049 g. Moskva
ul. Zhitnaya, 16
Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del
Rossiyskoy Federatsii
Ministru Gen.-polk. Kulikovu A.
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Faxes: +7095 230 25 80
Russian Federation Minister of Defence, General Pavel Grachev
Rossiyskaya Federatsiya
103175 g. Moskva
ul. Myasnitskaya, 37
Ministerstvo oborony
Ministru Grachevu P.S.
and to diplomatic representatives of the Russian Federation accredited to your
country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 10 April 1996.

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