Putin urged to seek justice in Chechnya
LONDON (Reuters) - Leading politicians, dignitaries and playwrights have written to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to make "peace and justice" in Chechnya the focus of his final year as president.
The open letter, signed by more than 100 people including the leader of Liberal Democrats party, Menzies Campbell, and playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, said Chechnya under Russian rule was the scene of war crimes and rights abuses.
"We can no longer remain silent in the face of the persistent human rights abuses and war crimes in Chechnya," said the letter published in the Independent on Monday.
"Since 1999, hundreds of thousands of Chechens have been displaced and more than 100,000 killed -- mostly civilians.
"Disappearances, torture, rape, extra-judicial killings and the silencing of independent journalists and human rights defenders have been daily occurrences, both by Russian forces and the militia of the president whom President Putin recently appointed."
Russia has been fighting in Chechnya since 1994, when former President Boris Yeltsin sent in troops to put down a separatist rebellion.
When he took office seven years ago, Putin vowed to crush the rebels. Moscow's forces, working with local allies, have killed several separatist leaders and driven the insurgents into mountain hideouts.
Despite the crackdown, the separatists insist they are not finished off and have pledged to keep attacking Russian forces.
A gunfight on Monday between police and rebels in a small mountain village killed six people -- three from each side, the Chechen Interior Ministry press office said.