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OSCE: Chairman Appeals To Russians To Enter Into Dialogue

The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Knut Vollebaek, spoke to journalists today about the situation in Chechnya and other issues to be addressed at tomorrow's OSCE summit in Istanbul. He warned that the summit will be a failure unless agreement can be reached on key documents.

Istanbul, 17 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Knut Vollebaek, Norway's suave foreign minister, faces many problems. As chairman of the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), he has to deal with a range of intractable conflicts and disputes in Chechnya, Armenia, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, and elsewhere. Yet he portrays himself as full of hope.

In Istanbul today, Vollebaek spoke to journalists about some of the sticking points for the OSCE summit, which opens tomorrow. He turned first to Chechnya, the breakaway Russian republic where Russia has sent military troops for a full-scale assault that it says is intended to drive out terrorists.

Vollebaek said the OSCE respects Russia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its right to self defense. But he said Moscow must recognize there is no military solution in Chechnya.

"All countries have a right to protect themselves against terrorism, but indiscriminate use of force exposes the civilian population to unacceptable suffering."

He called on Russian leaders to enter into dialogue aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. Such a dialogue, he said, must include the legally elected president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, a man whose peace overtures Moscow has brushed aside.

He renewed his request to Russia to allow an OSCE team to visit the scene of the fighting in Chechnya, something Moscow has so far refused to do.

Asked about preparations for tomorrow's summit, Vollebaek said negotiators are still working on two key documents that are supposed to be signed at the summit. The first, the European Security Charter, is an elaboration of the OSCE's principles and mechanisms for solving disputes through cooperation. Vollebaek called the Security Charter a "milestone" and said the document is now more than 80 percent completed.

The second key document is the final amendments to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. The CFE treaty limits the amount of weapons and troops that each country can deploy in certain regions. Vollebaek declined to go into detail, but he conceded that the situation in Chechnya is complicating the negotiations. Russia's current military deployment in Chechnya exceeds its allowance for the northern Caucasus area.

But the OSCE chairman said it is his strong hope that the Chechen conflict will not prevent the signing of the Security Charter and the CFE treaty. He said the success of the summit depends on signing these two documents:

"If we do not reach an agreement, of course it is a failure, because the summit has been called partly to sign these two agreements or documents, but even more so, I think it would be a failure for us as a community."

Turning to Central Asia, Vollebaek said he wants to stimulate further cooperation between the five states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. He said Central Asia's problems are often obscured by more dramatic developments elsewhere, such as in Kosovo or Chechnya. Asked about Islamic extremism in the Central Asian region, he said the OSCE realizes the danger, and has told OSCE officials on site to address this issue. But he said it must not be forgotten that religion can also be a asset in helping to prevent conflicts.