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The New York Times, September 18, 2004

Russian Who Killed Chechen May Get a Pardon

By Sophia Kishkovsky
MOSCOW, Sept. 17 - A Russian colonel who was incarcerated last year in the March 2000 murder of a Chechen woman has been recommended for pardon by a regional amnesty commission that convened at the prison where he was serving a 10-year term, according to news reports on Friday.

The decision to recommend a pardon for the officer, Col. Yuri D. Budanov, was made Wednesday, Anatoly Zherebtsov, the leader of the Ulyanovsk Oblast commission, told the Interfax news agency. The commission also decided to restore Colonel Budanov's military rank and decorations, of which he had been stripped. It was not clear why the decision was not announced immediately.

Colonel Budanov's case was widely seen as a test of Russia's willingness to prosecute those accused of atrocities in Chechnya. He was charged with kidnapping Elza Kungayeva, 18, from her home and strangling her in his quarters, but in a first trial he was acquitted, prompting an appeal and ultimately a second trial that led to his conviction in 2003. He argued that he had thought Ms. Kungayeva was a Chechen sniper, and throughout his trials many rushed to his defense.

Vladimir Shamanov, the governor of Ulyanovsk, is a general who has also been accused by human rights groups of allowing his troops to commit rape and murder in Chechnya. He supported Colonel Budanov during his trial.

The pardon is subject to the approval of President Vladimir V. Putin. His administration made no comment about the case on Friday.

Vladimir Lukin, Russia's human rights ombudsman, told Interfax by telephone from Athens that he would recommend that Mr. Putin be cautious about approving the pardon.

"In the wake of recent events in Beslan, we should clearly find where we stand, treat the killers of innocent people very toughly, and not create an impression that we approach such issues with double standards," he said, referring to the school hostage-taking by Chechen rebels in which hundreds were killed.

Last week, a Chechen rebel Web site mentioned Colonel Budanov's crime as one of the Russian atrocities against Chechen children that led to the Beslan siege. On Friday, an official of the pro-Moscow Chechen government condemned the pardon.

Human rights advocates warned of the ominous message sent by the decision. "It's a signal to servicemen who are in Chechnya," said Aleksandr Petrov, deputy director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch. "Don't be afraid. You won't have to pay for what you do."


See also:

Human Rights

War in Chechnya

The New York Times, September 18, 2004

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