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OSCE Presses Russia on Chechnya, Karabakh

Munich, Feb. 20 (RFE/RL) - The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Flavio Cotti, is in Moscow today for what are described as serious talks about Chechnya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

An OSCE spokesman told our correspondent today that Cotti is extremely concerned about the continuing Russian military offensive in Chechnya, and what OSCE perceives as a diminishing Russian interest in a peaceful settlement without further bloodshed.

The OSCE spokesman in Vienna said that Cotti will tell Russia's foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov that only a peaceful solution-- which takes into account the interests of the local people --can bring long-term peace to Chechnya. The OSCE already has a mission in the Chechen capital, Grozny, which last year unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a settlement.

The organization is also pressing Russian authorities to allow free elections in Chechnya as a step towards establishing democracy.

In Moscow yesterday, President Boris Yeltsin told Germany's chancellor Helmut Kohl that Moscow expects to resolve the Chechnya conflict before the Russian presidential election in June. German commentators said today that Yeltsin made no mention of a peaceful solution of the conflict. A few days earlier, Yeltsin said that Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev and his closest associates should be shot.

The OSCE chairman, who is also Switzerland's foreign minister, will use his meeting with Primakov to protest the Russian treatment of the seven-man OSCE mission in Grozny. Last month, the OSCE lodged a protest in Moscow, because the Russian military was restricting the freedom of movement of the mission. Some mission members have been refused passes to cross Russian control points. The OSCE spokesman said the protest had led to a slightly better situation, but that the mission still did not have full freedom of movement.

Russian officials in Grozny have told the OSCE that the measures are intended to protect mission members. They said the the military was concerned that the Chechen separatists might seize mission members as hostages. The mission headquarters in Grozny has been guarded for several months by two Russian armored cars and a platoon of Russian troops. Some OSCE officials have complained that this inhibits people from entering the mission.

Russia has agreed to an inspection of the situation in Chechnya by a high-level OSCE delegation. It would be drawn from the three governments at present forming the leadership of the OSCE - Hungary, Switzerland and Denmark. The OSCE says that the team would also like to talk to high-ranking chechen separatists. It hopes the team will go to Grozny at the end of this month, possibly accompanied by western journalists.

Cotti's talks with Primakov will also cover negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Cotti is due to visit the region next week. Primakov has said previously that Russia wants to see substantial progress towards a settlement before the Russian presidential election. At a minimum, he has said, the ceasefire - which OSCE negotiated in 1992 - should be converted into a permanent cessation of hostilities.

Russia's first deputy foreign minister, Boris Pastukhov is also visiting the region, hoping to persuade parties to the conflict to accept proposed compromises more readily. His efforts come immediately before the next round of OSCE talks, which begin in Finland tomorrow. Russia has said Pastukhov will continue traveling among Baku, Erevan and Stepanakert to encourage a settlement before the June election in Russia. A U.S. negotiator has also visited Armenia and Azerbaijan this month to try to persuade them to accept compromise proposals.