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6 Russian soldiers detained after Chechens allege abuse

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MOSCOW — Six Russian servicemen have been detained for alleged crimes against civilians during troop searches for rebels in Chechnya earlier this month, Kremlin officials said Thursday.

Citing Chechen prosecutor Viktor Dakhnov, an aide to Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the soldiers were being investigated in connection with charges of abduction, robbery and abuse of authority.

Chechen civilians, human rights groups and officials from Chechnya's pro-Russian administration accused Russian soldiers of beating and robbing civilians as they went on a rampage while combing three villages for rebels earlier this month. All males between the ages of 15 and 50 in the villages of Assinovskaya, Sernovodsk and Kurchaloi were rounded up and forced to kneel for hours, and some accused the troops of torturing and humiliating them.

Russia's human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, said Thursday that his office had received about 200 letters from villagers protesting the troops' behavior, the Interfax news agency reported.

Dakhnov said that the investigation should put Russian soldiers on notice that they must behave within the framework of the law. But he said several dozen witnesses who had given testimony later withdrew it, saying their statements had been written by someone else or were written under pressure.

He also said that "excessively cruel acts by the military could have been provoked in part by certain actions of local residents," according to Yastrzhembsky's office.

Dakhnov appeared to be following the lead of President Vladimir Putin, who answered a reporter's criticism of abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya at a Wednesday news conference with the allegation that some soldiers had "fallen for the fighters' provocations."