May 19, 2010 / 7:29 PM / 10 years ago

Russia's Medvedev: Caucasus corruption threatens state

* Medvedev says N. Caucasus corruption could weaken state

* Activists appeal for less brutality by law enforcement



By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW, May 19 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told civil society leaders on Wednesday that endemic corruption in the North Caucasus, where the Kremlin is battling an Islamist insurgency, was threatening security across the country.

"In the Caucasus, it (corruption) has become absolutely rampant, in fact, it threatens national security and weakens the state and social institutions," the Kremlin boss said in a transcript of the meeting on official site kremlin.ru

Medvedev, who vowed to tackle country-wide graft when he took office two years ago, acknowledged corruption existed in any region but that it "directly aids separatists and killers who operate in the North Caucasus".

Medvedev’s concerns echoed those of regional leaders in the deeply troubled, mainly Muslim North Caucasus, particulary in the turbulent trio of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s.

In those three, militants fueled by poverty and the ideology of global jihad stage near-daily attacks, and many want to carve out a separate sharia state. Earlier this year the Kremlin named the North Caucasus Russia’s biggest domestic political problem.

Twin suicide bomb attacks on the Moscow metro in March which killed 40 turned the global spotlight on the North Caucasus. Authorities blamed the attacks on two women from Dagestan.

Though the Kremlin is pouring billions of dollars over the next several years into the North Caucasus, where unemployment is as high as 50 percent in some regions, religious and government leaders say many youths are turning to extremism.



EXCESS VIOLENCE

Rights workers, while applauding Medvedev for drawing attention to the woes of the North Caucasus, also appealed for less use of military force when battling insurgents.

"No one questions Russia’s duty to fight terrorism and armed insurgency in the North Caucasus, but in doing so it also has obligations to uphold Russian and international human rights law," said Tanya Lokshina, from New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

She said HRW and other rights groups had documented law enforcement personnel’s involvement in torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and collective punishment in the region.

Others argued that tackling the insurgency with violence only spurs it on.

"It is wrong to eliminate militants without a court or investigation if there is a possibility to arrest them... Why force the fight against terrorism?," said Aslambek Paskachev from the non-governmental Russian Congress of the Caucasus Peoples.

Rights workers and local media say hundreds of militants have been killed by Russian forces in the North Caucasus over the last few years without a trial. Law enforcement officers say they are only responding to attacks on themselves. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Ralph Boulton)



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