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Russia: EU Expresses Concern Over Chechen Refugees

Moscow, 7 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - The European Union's new foreign affairs commissioner is in Moscow today for talks on the growing Chechen refugee crisis. The EU's Chris Patten -- accompanied by the foreign ministers of Portugal and Finland -- is due to discuss the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Patten's spokesman says the foreign affairs commissioner will express the EU's concern about the estimated 120,000 refugees fleeing mostly into neighboring Ingushetia to escape Russia's bombing campaign against Islamic militants. The spokesman says the solution to the conflict lies in a ceasefire and constructive political talks. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will also address the refugee crisis at today's weekly Russian cabinet meeting. He is expected to outline plans to improve conditions in the makeshift tent camps where people face shortages of food and water. Putin has suggested the refugees could be resettled in parts of Chechnya held by Russian troops. Russian federal forces, meanwhile, are tightening their hold over much of northern Chechnya, where they are trying to set up a protective buffer zone against incursions by the militants.

Russia says it is waging a pinpoint campaign of air strikes against rebel positions. Chechen officials accuse the Russians of indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets.