A leading rights activist warned in a meeting Tuesday with Russia's president that brutal tactics in fighting militants in the volatile North Caucasus region has helped swell the rebels' ranks.
Svetlana Gannushkina, a widely respected Russian rights defender, said the operation against the Islamic militancy "isn't only inefficient but counterproductive."
Gannushkina, who spoke at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with rights activists, singled out arbitrary arrests and abductions of suspects by security forces in the Caucasus, saying such action foments public anger and prompts many to join the rebels.
"It's time to end the body count, they need to count people who have returned to normal life," Gannushkina said in a reference to official boasting about the number of killed militant suspects. The minutes of the meeting were posted on the presidential website.
Gannushkina focused her criticism on Chechnya, saying regional authorities have ignored rights activists' demands to investigate cases of abductions and forced disappearances of people accused of terror links.
Chechnya's Moscow-backed strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, has relied on ruthless tactics in fighting the Islamic insurgency after two separatist wars. Rights activists have accused his black-clad security forces of systematic abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings.
Gannushkina cited letters from senior Russian investigators saying that Chechen authorities had stonewalled their attempts to conduct probes into abductions. She said that rights defenders working in Chechnya had faced threats.
Gannushkina also urged Medvedev to stop Chechen authorities from enforcing a tight Islamic dress code.
The Kremlin, which needs Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya, has given him carte blanche for running the region and ignored previous demands by rights activists to deal with rights abuses in Chechnya.
Medvedev agreed with Gannushkina that authorities should do more to persuade militants to lay down weapons and admitted that some regional leaders had their flaws, but didn't mention any by name and warned activists that they are dealing with a "very sensitive subject."
"I proceed from the assumption that our law enforcement agencies are fighting criminals, not that criminals are working in law enforcement agencies and prevent Russian citizens from living normal lives," he said. "Otherwise we will lose our law enforcement system."
Gannushkina also gave Medvedev materials of an independent probe into the death of right activist Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted from outside her home in Grozny in July 2009 and found shot to death along a roadside a few hours later.
Estemirova, who headed the Chechen office of internationally respected Russian rights group Memorial, had clashed with Kadyrov over his campaign to oblige women to wear headscarves. Her death has remained unsolved.