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Jolie Visits Refugees Near Chechnya

2:02 PM, Aug 22, 2003   |    comments
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ORDZHONIKIDZEVSKAYA, Russia (AP) -- Chechen refugees flocked around Angelina Jolie as she visited a tent camp Friday, but many were frustrated in their attempts to tell the Hollywood star about their plight. Jolie, who is in Russia as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, spent about 40 minutes at the Bella camp near the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia, a region that borders Chechnya. Later she was expected to visit a second camp. Though most of the refugees did not get a chance to talk to the actress, many said they were grateful for the attention. "At last someone has paid attention to us," said a weeping Aina Khasakhanova, 49. "I am crying out of happiness." The visit came as Russian authorities are preparing to close the camps in an effort to show that peace has returned to Chechnya. Officials claim that refugees are voluntarily returning to Chechnya, but many people say they are being pressured to return against their will. This month, Chechen Prime Minster Anatoly Popov was quoted as saying the camps would be closed by Oct. 1. Many people in the crowd shouted slogans against Akhmad Kadyrov, the Moscow-appointed leader of Chechnya, blaming him for the closing of the camps. Jolie, who was led into two tents, declined to speak to the media, and a tight ring of guards from Russia's Federal Security Service and riot police prevented many camp residents from getting near her. It was not clear who was chosen to speak to the American star. Malika Sagaipova, 29, who has lived in the camp since 1999, said the refugees had delegated five women to speak to Jolie but they did not get the chance. "We wanted to tell her that the military and Kadyrov's people are moving us out of here. We know that Angelina cannot stop the war in Chechnya, but maybe she will help us stay here," Sagaipova said. Zulai Dadasheva, 43, said Jolie's visit made the refugees "feel like people." "We are also people, not terrorists and killers," she said. On Thursday, Jolie discussed the Chechen refugee situation with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov in Moscow.

Associated Press

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