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OSCE: Organization Praises Chechnya, Criticizes Belarus, Serbia

Vienna, 17 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has agreed to send election monitors to Chechnya, despite recent violence in the separatist republic.

Speaking in Vienna yesterday, the current OSCE chairman, Denmark's Niels Helveg Petersen, praised the holding of the elections, but he warned that the safety of the 50 monitors must be guaranteed by Chechnya. The breakaway Russian republic has seen a recent upsurge in violence, including the shooting of a group of Russians and the murder of six foreign Red Cross workers.

Chechnya has scheduled presidential and parliamentary elections January 27. And, Petersen said, "The holding of elections is a crucial step in consolidating peace in Chechnya after the recent dramatic conflict. New democratic structures are a prerequisite for initialling much-needed rehabilitation, and for the refugees and displaced persons." Petersen added, "But we will continue to monitor the situation very closely, and are ready to minimise or even cancel that presence if a manifest deterioration should occur."

Petersen urged all the 54-member states of the OSCE to send monitors to the election, the first after 21 months of war. The elections are backed by Russian authorities, despite unresolved differences over the issue of the republic's independence. Under a deal struck in August, Moscow and the rebels agreed to postpone the issue of Chechnya's political status for five years, in return for a withdrawal of Russian forces.

Russia announced January 5 it had pulled its last Interior Ministry troops out of Chechnya.

Our Vienna correspondent cites reports as saying the separatists are eager to have foreign observers present during voting to add legitimacy to the elections, which they see as a first step towards an independence recognised beyond Chechen frontiers.

Petersen also expressed hope for a "productive outcome" of the Inter-Tajik talks taking place in Teheran on a peaceful settlement in Tajikistan. "The OSCE stands ready through its mission and other institutions to play its part in the follow-up and implementation of any agreement reached."

But he had harsh words for the government in Belarus which, he said, had failed to meet any of the demands laid down by the OSCE at its recent Lisbon summit. The lack of respect for democratic and constitutional principles, he said, had given rise to serious concern.

Petersen said that "Unfortunately, the situation has not improved. I, therefore, urge once again the government of Belarus to take action to respect its commitments to OSCE norms and principles, to enter in dialogue with the opposition and to ensure freedom of media and not restrict access to the media for members of the opposition.

Concerning the situation in the former Yugoslavia, the OSCE called on Belgrade to grant full recognition of opposition victories in Serbia's controversial November 17 local elections. "Step-by-step concessions to the opposition on what ought to be a merely mechanical issue -- translating the results into seats -- is simply not the way to handle this situation," said Mr Petersen.

The OSCE backed a recent report by Spain's former prime miniter Felipe Gonzalez on the disputed local elections, and said Belgrade should fully and promptly implement all its recommendations.

"The situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) is a fast evolving one. On one point it has, however, not been fast enough," Petersen told the OSCE's permanent council in a speech. The chairman added that the OSCE remained open for dialogue with the government of Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic to help resolve the "profound political crisis" in the country.

"Our door is wide open," he said."But the FRY does not seem to want to walk through it," Petersen said. He added that without full democratisation there was no chance of resolving the situation in Serbia, which has seen eight weeks of mass protests against the annulment of election wins by the Zajedno (Together) coalition of opposition parties in 14 of Serbia's 18 biggest cities. Election commissions in the capital Belgrade and the country's second biggest city, Nis, this week awarded victory in the polls to Zajedno.