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The Guardian, September 21, 2004

Russian Governor Backs Colonel's Pardon

By Mara D. Bellaby
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) - The fate of an army colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen woman will be decided by President Vladimir Putin following a Russian governor's decision to support pardoning the officer, Russian media reported Monday.

Ulyanovsk Gov. Vladimir Shamanov gave his backing to a regional commission's recommendation to pardon Col. Yuri Budanov, sending the case forward to the Kremlin for Putin's endorsement, Interfax said, citing defense lawyer Pavel Astakhov.

The Ulyanovsk region in the Volga area is where Budanov is serving a 10-year sentence for the kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Heda Kungayeva, whom Budanov accused of being a sniper; its governor was Budanov's former commanding officer in Chechnya.

"Even now I think that the sentence upon Budanov was not fair and that the injustice must be corrected," Astakhov was quoted as saying.

Human rights groups have criticized the effort to pardon Budanov, the first Russian officer prosecuted for a crime against a civilian in Chechnya.

Officials in Chechnya also reacted angrily, with the late Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov's powerful son, Ramzan Kadyrov, telling Interfax: "The Ulyanovsk commission's decision is like spitting on the soul of the long-suffering Chechen people."

Budanov's trial was widely watched in Russia and abroad for a signal of how the military would handle reports of abuses in Chechnya, which have undermined the Kremlin's efforts to build trust in the war-ravaged republic.

Rights groups say killings of Chechen civilians by Russian soldiers are common, and they have called for more prosecutions.

Pardoning Budanov "would send a wrong signal to the military personnel who are part of the Chechnya operations and would not help improve the human rights situation," Alexander Petrov, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, said he would advise the president against pardoning Budanov. The prosecutor's office in the Ulyanovsk region also said it believes it would be unhelpful to pardon Budanov now, the Interfax news agency reported.

Dmitry Kozak, Putin's newly appointed representative for southern Russia, indicated in an interview on Russian state-run television Sunday that Putin could back the pardon.

"We have announced several amnesties for the other party to the conflict, members of illegal armed units, and it is quite possible that there are also grounds" for Budanov's amnesty, Interfax quoted Kozak as saying.


See also:

Human Rights

War in Chechnya

The Guardian, September 21, 2004

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