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OSCE Faces Problems In Chechnya

Vienna, Feb. 8 (RFE/RL) - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says its mission in Chechnya is encountering problems with both the Russian military and the separatists led by Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Officials at OSCE headquarters in Vienna say the Russian military has tried to restrict the freedom of movement of the seven-man mission in Grozny. They say that the mission has difficulties in obtaining passes to cross Russian control points.

Ten days ago Switzerland, which is this year's chairman of the OSCE, made a protest in Moscow. The OSCE says the situation improved slightly after the protest but the mission still does not have as much freedom of movement as it needs. It says Switzerland and other OSCE governments are considering another protest if mission members are not allowed to travel freely.

The OSCE says the Russian explanation is that it is concerned for the safety of mission members following the recent hostage crisis in Dagestan. Russian officials have said they are worried that the Chechen separatists might seize mission members as hostages in a new attempt to gain international attention.

The mission headquarters in Grozny is now guarded by two Russian armored cars and a platoon of Russian troops. The armored cars have been stationed outside the mission since the beginning of October when the building was attacked with rockets. The attackers have never been publicly identified

The OSCE mission has apparently also earned the personal hostility of separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. OSCE officials say he has ordered his supporters to have no contact with the OSCE mission or resume negotiations on a possible settlement. At a press conference earlier this week, Dudayev accused the OSCE mission in Chechnya of inciting hostilities.

OSCE officials say they are mystified by Dudayev's attitude. On January 16 the chief of the OSCE mission, Tim Guldman, had a five-hour meeting near Grozny with Dudayev's military chief of staff, General Aslan Maskhadov.

A spokesman said that despite the problems, the OSCE mission is trying to renew contacts with both sides in the hope of restarting the peace negotiations which broke down late last year.

Swiss Foreign Minister, Flavio Cotti, who is the chairman of OSCE, is expected to go to Moscow later this month to confer with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Officials say he will propose that a team of senior OSCE officials be allowed to go to Grozny to evaluate the situation. It would be made-up of representatives of the three countries responsible for OSCE activities. At present these are Switzerland, Hungary and Denmark.