The Chechen republic in the northern Caucasus region of Russia has become the first largely Moslem territory in the former Soviet Union to move toward imposing Islamic law, according to a human rights-oriented weekly here.
The impending change in government practices has instilled particular concern among the estimated 2,000 Jews who live in Chechenya, as it is called in Russian, the majority of them in the capital, Grozny.
A draft law, published Oct. 6 in the semi-official publication Golos Chechenskoi Respubliki (Voice of the Chechen Republic), describes amputation of the hand as the penalty for theft, among other punishments based on Sharia, or Islamic law. Rape or murder may be punished by death, according to the law.
Chechenya, which is located inside the Russian Federation, declared its independence from Moscow last year under the leadership of former Soviet air force Gen. Dzhokar Dudayev, an ethnic Chechen who sports a pencil-thin moustache and is partial to wearing bowler hats.
The government of Russian President Boris Yeltsin has so far largely ignored the independence claims of Chechenya, but this week began moving troops into neighboring North Ossetia in response to ethnic fighting between Ossetians and Ingushis, part of the patchwork of peoples that inhabit the rugged northern Caucasus.
News reports said that Moscow had sent 3,000 police commandos to North Ossetia. Dozens of people were killed in the internecine fighting, the reports said. The latest violence erupted there last Friday, near the regional capital of Vladikavkaz.