ASTANA (Reuters) - A Kazakh border guard has confessed to killing 14 fellow soldiers and a herder in cold blood at a remote post near the Chinese frontier, prosecutors said on Thursday, adding that hazing, or severe bullying, may have prompted the massacre.
The grisly killings last week, at a high-altitude border post in southeastern Kazakhstan, shocked the Central Asian nation. President Nursultan Nazarbayev called the crime a “terrorist act” and told security chiefs to spare no effort in their investigation.
After the killings were reported, border guard Vladislav Chelakh was found on June 4 at a herders’ winter camp, said Nurdaulet Suindikov, spokesman for the prosecutor-general’s office.
“On that day, interrogated in the presence of a defense lawyer, Chelakh confessed to killing his fellow servicemen and (herder) Ruslan Kim,” Suindikov told a news briefing.
“According to Chelakh, the main motive was internal conflicts and an unexplained mental black-out,” he said. Chelakh, who has yet to undergo a psychiatric examination, said he had acted alone, Suindikov said, adding that he faced a possible life sentence.
Hazing, the humiliating bullying of younger soldiers by older ones, sometimes on religious or nationalist grounds, was widespread in the Soviet armed forces and, despite post-Soviet reforms, has survived in the Kazakh armed forces.
Local newspapers have published stories of badly bruised and broken bodies sent home in zinc coffins, accompanied by officers routinely citing “heart failure” as the main cause of death.
Vladislav Dlinnov, presenter of “Informburo” news program on Kazakh television, told RIA news agency on Thursday he had resigned after refusing to read out an “absolutely implausible” official statement on Chelakh’s confession.
Chelakh’s mother, Svetlana Vashchenko, said she believed her son was innocent and would appeal to an international court to investigate the case, RIA reported.
Suindikov, citing Chelakh’s confession, said the killings took place at about 5 a.m. on May 28 when everyone at the border post was asleep except one sentry. Chelakh, on duty at the barracks, took a sub-machinegun from the armory and killed the sentry.
“Then he returned to the barracks to kill the rest of the guards, nine of whom were still sleeping,” Suindikov said. “Herder Ruslan Kim was the last to be killed in his hut.”
“According to Chelakh, those of his fellow servicemen who were awake did not take it all seriously, even at gun-point.”
To hide the evidence, Chelakh set fire to the barracks and other buildings and to the sentry’s body. He took mobile phones, a laptop and money from the dead guards, put on the dead officer’s civilian clothes and took his pistol, Suindikov said.
The charred bodies were discovered two days later. Suindikov said a criminal case had been opened against the commander of a nearby post who had not reported the absence of communications with the border post that Chelakh had burned down.
Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva, writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Tim Pearce