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Speaking Out videos: War crimes and politics of terror in Chechnya 1994-2004

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December 1994 - MSF (Un)Limited - MSF Belgium -Christopher Stokes, MSF Belgium coordinator - (English)

14 January 1995 - AP

MSF Medical coordinator: That convoy is bringing medical equipment and drugs, we have also blankets. in total, we have 12 tons arrived by plane from Ostende via Stavropol using trucks of the Dagestan Ministry of Health to bring the supplies to Khazavyurt Chechens watching
The supplies are mainly for the hospital which are receiving the wounded people here in Khazavyurt and in Gudermes in Chechnya. but for the moment we have not completed our survey of the small hospitals. we will certainly start the distribution in Khazavyurt, as soon as possible in fact, and also in Gudermes, but in co-ordination with the ICRC to know where they are ditributing to avoid a double distribution

1995 - MSF, EUP - Christophe Picard - Tchétchénie, un peuple qu’on assassine (French)

16 June 1995 - AP

Shamil Bassaiev: We did not intend to seize Budyonnovsk . We had another task. We wanted to get to Moscow. The main aim of our operation is to put an immediate end to the war in Chechnya, see the withdrawal of Russian troops and a resolution to the problem through a peace process.
If our aims are not met we will force the courageous Russian army to do this (kill innocent civilian hostages). Let them come and storm the place We are sick of watching our villages being bombed, and our women and children being killed.
Freedom, or death is our fate. Either we will be free or nothing. An honourable death is better than being slaves or allowing the annihilation of our people.

19 January 1995 - AP (English)

May 1995 - MSF France 

1996 - MSF, EUP (English)

1996 - France 2 - Renaud Tockaert, MSF Belgium Programme manager (French)

Presenter: "Two members of the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières, a female logistician and her translator, have been kidnapped near Grozny, the capital. Their captors are claiming a ransom of one million francs. This comes as a shock, especially as MSF Belgium, working in Chechnya since the conflict began 16 months ago, has denounced the scorched earth policy the Russians pursue. Anne Gauthier managed to reach an MSF Belgium representative by phone from Brussels."

Doctor Renaud Tockert, MSF Belgium: "They were taken at around 10 am on the road out of Grozny. We've since received word via an intermediary suggesting that they’re OK, and a ransom demand. Our national coordinator went straight to the area where we think they're being held, looking to make contact with the kidnappers. In today's fragmented context there's a war and groups looking for independence, groups that are not fully under control. There's also a lot of banditry. We don't have a clear idea of who's behind the kidnapping, but it definitely isn't a member of civil society - the people we're been assisting for over a year and who regularly express their appreciation of our work."

28 April 1996 - AP

30 April 1996 - AP

1996 - Dr. Eric Goemaere, MSF (French/English)

21 August 1996 (French)

Presenter: In Chechnya, civilians are trapped by the war in Grozny. The Russian army – which is planning an offensive to retake the city from the separatists – have given the population until tomorrow to leave. Thousands of residents left yesterday, but the Russians have blocked the exits from the Chechen capital, which they seal off in the afternoon, and many people remain. Stéphane Faure spoke with Médecins Sans Frontières member François Jean, who has just left Grozny.

François Jean: People have begun leaving their houses, leaving their cellars, and getting into their cars, waving white flags, driving around trying to find a way out. But there are still a huge number of civilians in the city who are obviously very scared of renewed fighting. Along with the fear, there’s amazing solidarity between people, especially during this period when there hasn’t been any water in the city for several days now. As a general rule, the fighting has caused enormous damage, especially downtown. Most of the hospitals have been destroyed or evacuated, and it’s extremely difficult to provide humanitarian medical assistance, which the city’s civilian population urgently needs.

Reporter: Do we know who controls Grozny, the separatists or the Russian army?

François Jean: In the neighbourhoods I was able to drive around, it really feels like the separatists control the city. There are still a lot of Russian troops in Grozny, though, confined mostly to their posts and their entrenched camps.

Presenter: Right now there’s some confusion in the Russian camp. The commander who announced that an offensive against Grozny was imminent was relieved of his post yesterday. General Lebed, who says he still wants a negotiated solution, will be returning to the Chechen capital today.

23 August 1996 - AP (English)

17 December 1996 - AP

Ivan Rybkin, Secretary, Russian Security Council: I am simply convinced that the murder of doctors can only be a political murder. It is aimed at disrupting the peace process in Chechnya and at ending the preparation for elections there. Of that there is no doubt, no matter who is behind it.

Ilya Kapaev, resident of Novye Atagi: I don't blame them for wrapping up their work here, even though we needed them here. Free medical treatment in these times when no one is earning - well, their work was a wonderful thing. We can hope that they will return and that the culprits will be brought to justice

12 December 1998 - AP

Magomed Magomadov, Deputy State Prosecutor of Chechnya: We organised the search for the bodies and as a result of the investigation we have found out the four heads belonged to the three citizens of Great Britain and one citizen of New Zealand. It was discovered that they were killed on the night of December 8th to 9th, 1998.

Mairbek Vachagaev, Chechen Presidential Spokesman: Today or tomorrow the bodies will be sent home with observance of all required formalities. That includes a memorial service by the priest of the Grozny Russian Orthodox Church. Of course we realise they're protestants, but the service will be carried out by the Orthodox church. In this case the priest believes it is necessary to carry out these rites. The Chechen side has nothing against it.

2010 - UNHCR

1999 - MSF

15 January 2000 - AP (English)

10 January 2001 - AP - Press conference in Moscow on Kenny Gluck's abduction (English)

12 January 2001 - AP

Luiza, Refugee: He (Kenny Gluck) was really one of us. We were forced to leave our homes and to live in these tents, in this place and we have found help only from international organisations. We know that he came to help us and he did help us. We are really sorry and offended that some bastards came along and kidnapped him.

Roza Supyeva, Doctor, Slepsovskaya Camp: Doctors without Borders (MSF) is a very powerful organisation and it is inconceivable that they would need to stop their work here. It would be a catastrophe. They should not feel they have to close down their work here.
He (Kenny Gluck) would visit the camp and he was interested in the problems we face and wanted to know how he could help. He worked from the heart.

13 January 2001 - MSF Press conference, New York. 

LInk to video

15 January 2001 - AP - Marcel van Soest, MSF Holland, Director of Operations (English)

4 February 2001 - Moscow. 

Link to video

8 February 2001 - AP (English)

24 October 2002 - AP - Stephan Oberreit, MSF France Director of Communication (English)

24 October 2002 - France 2 (French)

Presenter: Good evening everyone. It has now been 24 hours, and several hundred people are still being held in what is Moscow’s largest-ever hostage situation. The commandos have given Vladimir Putin seven days to begin withdrawing Russian troops from Chechnya. They’re threatening to blow up the theatre if there’s a raid, and mines have been placed in the building, with explosives fixed to the seats.

Reporter: Four shots rang out at the end of the second act – four gunshots that transformed a hit musical into a tragedy for 700 audience members in this Moscow theatre. They have just been taken hostage by an invisible fifty-member Chechen suicide squad, some of them women, armed to the teeth. The building had already been packed with explosives by the time the army, police and security forces cordoned off the theatre. The few stagehands who managed to escape immediately have confirmed this. The suicide squad is demanding, and I quote, “the end of the Russian occupation” of the small Muslim republic in the Caucasus, and is ready to die killing their hostages. Twenty or so children and non-Russian audience members, perhaps 150 hostages, were released overnight, but it will take a long time to start negotiations, and so we wait.

Woman in tears: I want to see my son, I want to see my son.

Reporter: Early this morning, the anguish of families awaiting news is proof that the Chechen conflict has reached the heart of the Russian capital.

Freed hostage: They’re wearing explosives that are wired together, and they aren’t toys. They've also mined the theatre. If something happens, the people inside are screwed.

Reporter: And so that there'd be no misunderstanding, mid-afternoon the suicide squad released a young Russian woman bearing pleas from the helpless hostages, and her message was clear.

Freed hostage: It’s really hard for the men, women and children inside. I’m speaking for the hostages; you don’t know their names, but they’re counting on you. Be reasonable and stop the military operations. The powers that be have to find a political solution in Chechnya.

Reporter: But at evening’s end, the sight of a young woman’s body – apparently killed yesterday evening while trying to escape – being carried out is not a good sign. Exactly how many hostages remain in the theatre is not known.

26 October 2002 - France 3 (French)

A huge explosion in the middle of the night. The Russian special forces have just launched an assault against the theatre. Swiftly followed by a series of shots, a burst of gunfire that lasts 40 interminable minutes. The elite Russian soldiers have stormed every inch of the concrete building. Visibly shocked, the hostages manage to escape from the theatre. They must have inhaled the gas used by the Russian forces to neutralise the Chechen commando. The wails of ambulance sirens follow the gun fire. The first hostages are evacuated, most of them unconscious. Over 90 hostages die during the intervention, there are no foreigners among the victims. As the evacuations roll out, Russian officials justify the operation: the commando would have started shooting the hostages, that's what triggered the assault. Groggy hostages are transported to the hospital in buses.

A man: "During the negotiations, the terrorists started executing the hostages. Two people were killed, so a group of hostages tried to escape, but the terrorists started firing at anything that moved. In these circumstances, a group of special forces had to penetrate the theatre to free the hostages; they had to open fire to save lives."

When Russian television crews manage to enter the theatre, only rebel corpses remain. The hostages' corpses have been carefully removed. The commando members seemed to have been caught napping. Eighteen women were still wearing explosives that they hadn't had time to set off. Among the thirty two commandos killed was Mostar Baraiev, their chief. The quantity and force of the explosives discovered testify to the carnage that could have taken place. The images show two kidnappers being led away - the only two commando members who survived the assault. The flight of a few others - initially stated by the Russian security forces - was later dismissed.

12 August 2003 - France 3 - Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, President of MSF France (French)

Jean-Hervé Bradol: I don’t think it would be responsible to say right now that this is a criminal matter or a case of international terrorism. Official agencies are involved to some degree in this case, and we’ve got no concrete evidence that specific criminal groups are involved.

7 March 2003 - RTS (French)

Presenter: His name is Arjan Erkel, he will be 34 years old in two days, he was head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland in Dagestan, where he was kidnapped over a year and a half ago. As the months go by, his family and friends increasingly fear for his life. MSF was poised to launch a major press campaign to raise public awareness but had to backtrack due to the family's reticence. And this is the crux of the matter: should we talk about these forgotten hostages, give them media coverage, or leave secret diplomacy to follow its course? Here is Jean-Philippe Chalers' report (spelling????)
Commentary: a giant photo, lest we forget Arjan Erkel's fate. Without news for 6 months, Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland fears for the well being of its young Dutch member. The organisation wants to launch a major campaign for his release.
The members of an MSF crisis cell work on the kidnapping full time, studying the different approaches to adopt. It's been 19 months, and still no contact with the kidnappers. The different options remain unchanged.

Jean-Christophe Azé, crisis cell coordinator, MSF Switzerland: "The first step is to try and make contact, try and approach the kidnappers somehow. The second entails diplomatic moves with Western and Russian governments. The third is public communications, which end up being sporadic as they are episode-based, so as to anchor the case into the media, ensure that no one forgets and above all maintain momentum and boost the diplomatic manoeuvres with a little public pressure.
Commentary: to hone its strategy, MSF is taking advice from an ex-hostage. Vincent Cochetel was kidnapped in Chechnya in January 1988 when he was working for UNHCR. He spent 11 months in captivity. Following French diplomatic pressure, the Russians eventually secured his release via a risky military operation. For him, the hope of release keeps a hostage going."

Vincent Cochetel: "We assume that our family and our colleagues are doing all they can, our governments are taking action, that we won't be abandoned, that we're not going to end up a morbidity figure buried at the foot of an annual report. We hope for all this, and rely on support from our colleagues, from everyone. I think that Arjan knows how MSF works, understands its culture. He knows he will not be abandoned, that action is underway. What might be harder for him as time ticks on is establishing a routine, finding a daily rhythm, trying to contain his fears, his anxieties, his stress and the moments of being sick of it all. Counting the days becomes a total misery because you miss so much, you miss all sorts of important dates. You try not to give yourself a timeline but one automatically sets in, it's a biological thing too."

Commentary: "In Arjan Erkel's case, after over 18 months in detention, there's no room for error in the future steps to take."

Vincent Cochetel: "The priority is keeping him alive. But we must also equip ourselves for whatever comes up. And I hope that nothing will be attempted that endangers his life."

Commentary: "This is Arjan's family's biggest fear. Until now, Arjan Erkel's father has always supported MSF's actions, despite his reluctance to question the Russians' responsibilities. He is more comfortable with discrete diplomacy, for example via Swiss assistance – it has raised the case with Russia several times. But now the family's put its foot down: out of the question to do anything that might annoy President Poutine before the presidential elections. We went back to see MSF 3 days after our first visit. Following discussions with the family, the planned campaign has been put on ice."

Jean-Christophe Azé, crisis cell coordinator, MSF Switzerland: "The family's opinion counts. We may not do a press conference, we won't be too pro-active about this affair. It's just about striking a balance. We’ll try and do this while pursuing our goal of securing Arjan's swift release. We don't know who's holding Arjan, who's behind this whole affair, so we can imagine that adopting a strong line against such and such a person in this situation could backfire, have negative or even disastrous consequences for Arjan. There's always risk involved, elements we can’t control or take the measure of. No one can, not really. But one thing’s for sure: we fully understand the family's opting for zero risk. In other words, we won't take any risks."

11 April 2004 - AP - Moscow (English)