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Russia: Council Of Europe Delegation Urges Negotiations In Chechnya Crisis

Moscow, 6 December 2001 -- A Council of Europe delegation spoke today with reporters about the human rights situation in Chechnya following a three-day trip to the breakaway republic.

Frank Judd, the delegation's head, called for a political solution to the Chechen problem. He said people on both sides of the conflict were ready to start negotiations but that some groups in Chechnya and Russia still need to be convinced of the urgent need for talks. These groups, said Judd, oppose any political solution to the Chechnya problem.

But he added that a political answer may be the only way out of the two-year crisis: "What are the alternatives? Is the Russian Federation going to eliminate Chechnya? Is the Russian Federation going to occupy Chechnya on a long-term, lasting basis? Of course, neither of these propositions is on the agenda. So there is no alternative but to find a political solution. And by definition, if there is to be a political solution, it must be one in which the widest possible cross-section of Chechen society is content, is comfortable, and of course is going to be acceptable to the Russian Federation as well."

Judd expressed doubts about Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's willingness to enter negotiations with the Russian side. He cited Maskhadov's refusal to send a delegation to a recent Council of Europe meeting on Chechnya in Strasbourg.

On its recent trip, the Council of Europe delegation visited the Znamenskoye refugee camp in northern Chechnya. Judd described the conditions there as "grotesque." "The tents are leaking now -- at the beginning of winter," he said, then criticized the dearth of humanitarian funding in the area.

"But it is never difficult to find the money for bombs, for military equipment, for fighting. But it is always difficult to find the money for the humanitarian battle. I believe that in Chechnya [it] is a responsibility of Russia, but also it is a responsibility of the international community. Because I just don't understand why, if the international community really cared, all the effective assistance stops at Ingushetia and it is not getting to Chechnya."

Dmitrii Rogozin, head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, who accompanied the delegation to Chechnya, said the problems in the camps are linked to the large number of people living there. He said that sometimes people who don't need humanitarian aid nonetheless register to receive it.

But according to Lara Ragnarsdottir -- a Council of Europe representative for social problems -- the humanitarian situation in Chechnya this year is worse than it was last year: "The accommodation of the people in Chechnya, especially in the refugee camps, is very bad and it is even worse than we saw one year ago. The children have no shoes. They have no clothing to go to school. They have difficulties in surviving in many ways. The food that the people are receiving is not the food we would like our children to have in order to grow up as healthy individuals."

She said many children are showing signs of malnutrition, with underdeveloped teenagers often appearing years younger than they actually are. Ragnarsdottir said there is no medicine and that hospital care is not available except for some urgent cases.

She also said that education is very limited. All told, she said, the physical, psychological, and educational deprivations of Chechnya's younger generations do not present a hopeful picture for the future.

Judd, who is scheduled to meet with officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Federal Security Service, said Russian officials have failed to show improvement in investigating Russia's alleged human rights violations in Chechnya.

Russia has been accused of human rights violations in Chechnya. In 1999 the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly suspended Russia's voting rights in the organization to protest its actions in Chechnya, but later restored them.

Judd said he will not recommend new sanctions, saying he would prefer to cooperate with Russian officials in solving human rights problems in the Chechen Republic.