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Russia: OSCE To Send 50 Observers To Chechnya Elections

Moscow, 8 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - A senior official of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says the organization plans to send at least 50 observers to monitor Chechnya's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Tim Guldimann, head of the OSCE Chechnya mission, told reporters today that chances were good that the January 27 polls in the breakaway republic would be free and democratic.

OSCE security concerns were heightened after six International Red Cross workers were killed in Chechnya last month. So far nobody has claimed responsibility for the killings. Guldimann however said OSCE observers to the ballot would have a "24-hour a day protection" from Chechen separatist authorities.

Guldimann also said participation in the poll of the some 300,000 refugees who fled the region during the war was not a condition for democratic elections.

Interfax news agency however quoted Viktor Ilyukhin, Communist lawmaker and head of the Security Commission of Russia's State Duma as saying the result of the Chechen ballot could not be recognized since half the republic's population would not participate.

The peace accord between the Russian government and the separatists, which put an end to the war, postponed a final decision on the political status of Chechnya. All 16 candidates running for president are strong advocates of Chechen independence.