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Russia: EU Official To Urge Restraint In Chechnya

Brussels, 6 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - The European Commission says it plans to demand that Russia show restraint in Chechnya to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Spokesman Gunnar Wiegand today said in Brussels that Chris Patten, EU commissioner for foreign relations, would express EU concern during his visit tomorrow to Moscow. Wiegand said Patten would urge Moscow to adhere to its 1996 peace accord with Chechnya that ended a 21-month war over the republic's drive for independence. Patten, who is going together with the Finnish and Portuguese foreign ministers, is to meet in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and other officials. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said the current conflict with Chechnya is Russia's internal affair. Russian troops have now solidified control over one-third of Chechnya, taking positions along the strategically important Terek River.

The river, which cuts across northern Chechnya, has been described by the Russian media as a possible border for a security zone which Russia intends to create in the breakaway republic. But Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said today his troops may cross the river depending on the situation.

Chechen forces have now abandoned the northeastern Shelkovskaya area of their republic to advancing Russian troops. Chechen officials said the retreat was ordered for "tactical reasons."

The Russians meanwhile are continuing to shell northwestern regions of Chechnya and to bomb areas in the east. There were no immediate reports of casualties, but Chechen reports say hundreds of civilians have been killed in attacks so far.