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Russia: Moscow Says Council 'Misinformed' On Chechnya

A delegation from the Council of Europe is in Russia this week to assess the war in Chechnya and the council's relations with Moscow. The council has taken the opportunity to voice strong objections to the military campaign. But correspondent Floriana Fossato reports that Moscow has dismissed the concerns as simply the result of poor information.

London, 19 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- International objections to Russia's military campaign in Chechnya are, it seems, mainly the result of misinformation.

At least that's what acting Russian President Vladimir Putin this week told a visiting delegation from the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, a body that concerns itself with human rights and democratic practices.

The delegation is in Russia this week to assess the military campaign in Chechnya and the Council of Europe's relations with Russia. Russia joined the 41-nation body in 1996 and -- as a member -- has pledged to maintain its standards on human rights.

The delegation spent the first part of the week in Moscow, and has been visiting areas in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and northern Chechnya under Russian control.

Lord David Russell-Johnston, the head of the delegation, said that in a three-hour meeting with Putin he expressed "most directly" the council's opposition to the conduct of the war. Russell-Johnston said he urged the Russian leadership to begin peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.

Our correspondent says Putin's response indicates that Russia and the international community are still far apart on Chechnya.

Putin told the delegation that they shouldn't be misled by what he called "propaganda."

"We understand the concerns of the international community about the events that are taking place [in Chechnya], but we would like the international community to understand our position, and not base their position on propaganda materials, but on the real situation, on facts and real information."

While the international community has generally supported Russian efforts to fight terrorism, many council members have voiced strong opposition to the way the war is being waged. They say Russian troops are bombing indiscriminately and targeting civilians.

Before the Council of Europe delegation arrived in Russia, there were suggestions of suspending Russian membership in the council until the fighting is over.

Russell-Johnston now says that any talk of suspending Russia is "premature." But the council is expected to take up the issue next week (Jan. 27) at a special session.

He said one bright spot in talks was that Putin had signaled an agreement in principle to allow international observers to travel to Chechnya and operate freely in neighboring Caucasus republics.

So far, trips to the region by Western observers have been heavily restricted by military authorities.

A London-based expert tells our correspondent that even though Russian comments don't seem to indicate much agreement with the West on Chechnya, he finds it encouraging that the delegation was able to go to Moscow and the North Caucasus in the first place.

Martin Nicholson of the Royal Institute of International Affairs says the Russian government often reacts badly to pressure from outside, and some of that reaction can be seen this week.

However, he says, officials have clearly decided that rather than trying to keep the council out of Russia, they would prefer to invite members in and explain Moscow's position.