MOSCOW - A top Russian immigration official said Monday that all Chechen refugees in Ingushetia will be guaranteed a vote in October presidential election and that all those currently living in tent camps will be relocated by fall.
Igor Yunash, the head of the Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service said transport will be provided for the refugees in Ingushetia to travel to neighboring Chechnya to vote in the Oct. 5 election, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The Kremlin has billed the vote as a major step toward peaceful settlement in Chechnya. Akhmad Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-appointed administration chief, registered with the regional election commission Monday, becoming the tenth candidate to put his name on the ballot, the Interfax news agency reported.
Kadyrov said he had chosen to run as an independent candidate despite receiving the support of several political parties.
The Russian authorities have continuously pushed for the Chechen refugees in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya in an apparent attempt to show that life in the republic was normalizing.
Some 86,000 Chechen refugees are estimated to live in Ingushetia, about 18,000 of them in tent camps and the rest with relatives or in rented apartments.
Humanitarian organizations say most refugees don't want to return, fearing for their safety. Refugees and human rights groups say officials are using intimidation, blackmail and other threats to persuade people to return. Russian officials deny the accusations.
Yunash said Monday that the return of refugees wishing to go home will be completed by fall, but added that those wanting to stay in Ingushetia will be accommodated in rented housing.
Meanwhile, fighting continued in Chechnya, where at least eight Russian servicemen were killed in rebel attacks, clashes and mine blasts in the previous 24 hours, an official in the Moscow-appointed administration said on condition of anonymity.
Several hundred residents of the village of Samashki in western Chechnya were blocking a federal highway for the second day Monday, demanding the release of a 16-year old girl who was taken from her home late Saturday by unidentified, masked men and remained missing.
Chechen civilians and human rights groups have accused the federal forces of arbitrary arrests, killings, torture and other abuses against civilians. The authorities say that all such abuses are properly investigated and the culprits punished.
Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after a 20-month war with separatists, leaving Chechnya de facto independent. Russian forces swept in again in September 1999 after Chechnya-based insurgents mounted incursions into neighboring Dagestan and after some 300 people died in apartment explosions that authorities blamed on the rebels.