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Reuters: Chechnya finally closes ad hoc graveyard

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  • Norbert Strade
    Chechnya finally closes ad hoc graveyard Wednesday, April 5, 2006 GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Rasul Arapkhanov has tended an ad hoc rebels cemetery in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5 5:32 PM
      Chechnya finally closes ad hoc graveyard

      Wednesday, April 5, 2006

      GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Rasul Arapkhanov has tended an ad hoc rebels'
      cemetery in the Chechen capital Grozny for years -- but now he must look
      for another job.

      As Russian bombs fell on the city in 1999, and clashes between rebels
      and troops claimed hundreds of lives, the 70-year-old buried dead
      Chechen rebels in the Kirov Park to await a day when their relatives
      could come and take them home.

      "Every killed person had a label with his name and address. When the
      fight calmed down, the relatives and I opened the graves to move the
      body to his own graveyard," Arapkhanov said, as he stood outside his
      house on the outskirts of Grozny.

      "I was not hard to find. Everyone here knew that I looked after the
      graves. And I knew every path in the park."

      He was speaking after workers on Tuesday cleared the last six bodies
      from the park, which once held 57 graves, making way for what reports
      say will be an entertainment center for a city that officials say is
      being rebuilt by the day.

      The park, which runs near the river in the very center of town, is
      overgrown and largely shunned by local residents.

      Rebel news sources, said the discovery of what they called a "mass
      grave" was evidence of atrocities by Russian forces -- who have been
      accused of murdering civilians in their bid to crush support for the
      separatists.

      One rebel Web site (www.kavkazcenter.com) said the park contained at
      least 700 bodies of people killed by the bombs and rockets that fell on
      the city.

      But Arapkhanov said he knew every grave and that the federal troops had
      never entered the park during the fierce fighting of 1999-2000, which
      ended with the rebels being driven out of Grozny into the hills after
      weeks of siege.

      The bombardment, the heaviest seen in Europe since World War Two,
      shattered most of the city and only now are parts of it being rebuilt --
      which is why the park was being cleared.

      "The park was surrounded by water, and the Russians did not enter its
      territory. They were scared they wouldn't be able to leave it,"
      Arapkhanov said.

      "This quiet place steadily became a place for burying the rebels. The
      fighters could not leave the blockaded city. It was easier for them to
      bury their dead here."

      His own nephew, a 20-year-old rebel, was buried in the park until major
      military operations ended when Apakhanov could bury him in his home
      Nauri region north of Grozny.

      Fighting has largely ended in Chechnya, with rebels relying on ambushes
      and bombings to keep pressure on Russian troops. Local media reported
      three soldiers were wounded in bomb attacks on Wednesday.
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