August 15, 2005

Death toll in Russia’s Chechnya could be 160,000

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Up to 160,000 civilians and troops have
died or gone missing in the two wars Russia has launched in
rebel Chechnya, but only a quarter of them were ethnic
Chechens, a top pro-Moscow official said on Monday.

"Between 150,000 and 160,000 dead - this is the death toll
of the two campaigns," Interfax news agency quoted Taus
Dzhabrailov, head of Chechnya's interim parliament, as saying.

"Rough estimates show that between 30,000 and 40,000 ethnic
Chechens have died in the republic in both campaigns," he said,
according to Itar-Tass news agency.

Dzhabrailov did not explain why he believed ethnic Chechens
made up such a small proportion of the death toll, but in the
absence of reliable Kremlin figures, his remarks came as a rare
official assessment of the price of Moscow's drive to reinstate
its grip on the North Caucasus province.

Russia suffered a humiliating defeat in its first military
campaign in Chechnya in 1994-96. Troops sent to the region in
1999 ended its short-lived independence, but have yet to defeat
separatist fighters.

The government has never published conclusive figures of
military losses in the second Chechnya campaign, whose widely
advertised success is among the key factors of President
Vladimir Putin's popularity.

It has been even more reticent about the death toll in the
botched first war, described by current Kremlin leaders as a
"national shame."

Civilian losses in the Chechen wars have never been
calculated and official statistics seem to be targeted at
hiding the truth rather than revealing it.

Critics have branded as unrealistic the returns of the 2002
national census, which showed that Chechnya's
one-million-strong population has remained effectively
unchanged since 1989 despite the deaths and the departure of
hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have fled fighting and
economic collapse.

According to estimates by human rights organization
Memorial, published in December 2004, the number of killed or
missing civilians was up to 50,000 for the first Chechen war
and up to 20,000 for the second.

According to official figures around 5,000 servicemen were
killed during the first war and around the same number during
the second. Dozens of servicemen and Moscow-controlled Chechen
security forces die every month in rebel attacks.

Unofficial estimates by experts and rights campaigners put
Russian military losses in both campaigns anywhere between
20,000 and 40,000 people.