For Chechen Villagers, Conflict Doesn't End
Russian forces in Chechnya are still hunting a handful of separatist rebels hiding in the Caucasus Mountains. Local villagers in the war-torn region say they don't support the militants and only want peace. But they say the conflict is continuing because some in the Russian military don't want it to end.
The area of Shatoi lies along a potholed road that winds south into the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains beside the steep-banked Argun River Valley. Occasionally, military helicopters fly overhead and armored personnel carriers ferry Russian troops.
In the tiny settlement of Urd-Yukhoi, residents use woodstoves to cook and heat their farmhouses. They depend on farming to survive, but most of their fields are mined, and livestock are routinely killed. Unemployment stands at around 90 percent.
Although the stunning mountain landscape may be serene, it hides a violent way of life. Taos Khachukayeva says she heard people breaking into her house early one morning last month.
Khachukayeva ran outside to see her family lined up and her 22-year-old son on the ground. She says they were guarded by about 50 men with automatic rifles -- some wearing masks -- and an armored personnel carrier with blacked-out registration.
"Our young girls were crying, and all the village's women gathered around," Khachukayeva says. "But the armed men didn't listen to us. They kept asking 'Where's your basement?' and threatening to kill us, saying, 'We're going to send you to meet your Allah!'"
The men searched Khachukayeva's house and three others. Residents say they feared for their lives.
During the past decade, Shatoi's residents have suffered bombings, shootings and abductions and have been subjected to countless searches. But locals say last month's anti-insurgent operation was especially traumatic because they had believed the war was coming to an end.
Newly appointed Shatoi administration chief Jamlai Khadashchev says he wasn't informed about last month's searches, which have helped undermine his major rebuilding effort.
Khadashchev believes one of several special forces units in the area carried out last month's operation. But the region's military commander, Col. Vladimir Mudji, says he doesn't know exactly who's responsible.
Yunus Mudaev, who runs the district's reconstruction effort, says some in the military want the conflict to continue because it gives them power and cover for illegal profiteering.
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