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Chechnya: Former Parliamentarians Appeal For U.S. Help

Two ranking members of the disbanded Chechen Parliament have appealed for stronger and more immediate U.S. help in bringing about an end to Russia's military campaign in the breakaway Republic. Seilam Bechaev -- parliamentary vice president -- and Tourpal-Ali Kaimov -- chairman of the Budget Committee -- issued the appeal in Washington during a briefing Wednesday before the Helsinki Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Washington, 3 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Chechen representatives, both of whom fought against Russian forces during the 1994-1996 Chechen war, said their main goal in coming before the committee was to express their commitment to building a democratic government, based on democratic laws.

But if their goals are to be realized, Bechaev and Kaimov said the U.S. and international community will have to do much more to help. First and foremost, Bechaev said, the killing of the Chechen people must stop. He also sought to lay out a framework for possible future action:

"(Then) there should be the establishment of an international committee that has the authority to go in and to see what is happening on the ground and to implement sanctions -- to deny Russia humanitarian aid -- to get a meeting between the leadership in Chechnya and Russia, using U.S. mediation, -- to provide humanitarian aid to Chechen refugees and citizens of Chechnya and to provide support toward building democratic governments and institutions in Chechnya."

The United States and the international community have long advocated a political rather than military solution to the conflict. But getting the two sides to the negotiating table has proven futile thus far. This, despite the fact that at the November 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul, the OSCE participating states -- including the Russian Federation -- reaffirmed the existing mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group in Chechnya and stated that assistance of the OSCE would contribute to achieving a political solution to the crisis.

In the ensuing months, Russia then rejected all efforts at outside mediation, citing the Chechen conflict as an "internal" Russian affair.

Commission Chairman Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) pondered whether the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton had given a "green light" to the Russians by failing to take a stronger stand at the first signs of trouble. It was a notion not wholeheartedly rejected by Bechaev and Kaimov, both of whom said that once one violation of human rights was allowed to pass, more were soon to follow. Bechaev later expressed concern over a recent decision by the Council of Europe, an international body concerned with human rights, to give Moscow three more months -- until April -- to find an answer to the Chechen conflict before facing censure.

"This delay of three months will allow thousands of others to be killed. Who will take the responsibility for this? We need to make Russia responsible."

In briefing the committee, Bechaev also spoke to the "horrible" acceleration of the humanitarian catastrophe in Chechnya, where civilians are subject to not only daily bombing, shelling and displacement, but often times also summary executions, looting, and rape.

Above and beyond all this, lies what Kaimov called a much deeper problem -- the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

"If we in power allow for this fundamentalism to succeed it will be a horror for our people because basically Chechnya will cease to exist. We are more worried about this problem than anything else. And without American help and help from others, it will not be possible to do (anything about) it."

In February 1998, President Aslan Maskhadov announced the "full" implementation of Shariah (Islamic) rule in Chechnya and suspended the work of the Parliament. Kaimov said the people of Chechnya are not "welcoming" these beliefs, and he added that he and other Chechens see themselves as Europeans.

Both Bechaev and Kaimov acknowledged that there had been violations on the part of Chechen separatists fighting the Russian special forces in Chechnya. But the Chechens have rejected any link to the bombings of Russian apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere last August that the Russian government used as a major pretext to launch the so-called "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya.

Meanwhile, it would appear the Chechen representatives picked up some key support from the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Benjamin Gilman (R-NY).

Gilman was not in attendance, but in a statement prepared for and read before the committee, he suggested that it may be time for the United States to bring a resolution regarding Russia's campaign in Chechnya before the United Nations Security Council -- of which Russia is a permanent member.

In the statement, as read by Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Gilman characterized the campaign as "brutal" and said it was certainly long past time the U.S. join those states of Europe that have insisted Russia's commitments to the OSCE be honored.

Gilman further states that it is also time to bring in the OSCE to mediate a political settlement to the Chechen conflict. Gilman's words, as read by Smith:

"I am pleased to see that our secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, has finally started to speak out against the violence of this Russian military operation, but I am disappointed to see that President Clinton has done very little about this. I was, in fact, disappointed by our president's recent characterization of the Russian military's operation as intended to "liberate" the Chechen capital of Grozny."

That so-called "liberation" as Gilman, Bechaev, and Kaimov pointed out, has already resulted in the loss of thousands of civilian lives and the almost complete destruction of everything that once stood in Chechnya.