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Russia: European Parliament Concerned Over Military Campaign In Chechnya

The European Parliament has held a debate on the situation in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya, with speakers expressing grave concern at developments there and calling for the re-establishment of normalcy and democratic conditions. Does this mean the European Union is planning to play a more active role assisting the war-ravaged region?

Prague, 11 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Parliament has signaled an increasing interest in the situation in Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya with a debate yesterday in Strasbourg.

The debate featured an impassioned plea for European engagement in the human rights issues there by French Greens Deputy Marie Anne Isler-Beguin. She said it is impossible to feign ignorance and turn a blind eye to events in Chechnya, which she characterized as genocide.

"Especially, especially, we must cease to camouflage our passivity with declarations and to pacify our consciences by pretending to preserve the fragile democracy in Russia. We have to avoid the simplistic a malgam -- namely that planned genocide equates to the fight against terrorism. If we do not do that, the barbarity will grow proportionally," Isler-Beguin said.

She said the European Union must use its links to Russia to try to improve the situation, add ing that the coming Eastward enlargement of the union will create new conditions and new opportunities for Russia.

"Russia, in the short term, will be placed -- by the enlargement of the Union -- in a new geopolitical situation, which should fundamentall y redefine its status and its relations with its new European neighborhood," Isler-Beguin said.

Representing the current EU presidency, Ramon de Miguel, Spain's minister for European affairs, expressed the EU's desire to see normal life return to the war-ravaged region. Addressing his remarks to parliament President Pat Cox, he said: "We want to re-establish normality in Chechnya, to establish full, democratic conditions concerning human rights, the return of refugees and full normalization of life. And this is an objective that we can and must aspire to. I guarantee, Mr. [parliamentary] President, that the Council [of Ministers] will not spare any effort, jointly with the [European] Commission, as well as with the support of this parliament, to achieve this objective."

De Miguel's spokeswoman, Isabel Rico, later emphasized the EU presidency's interest in Chechnya, and she said the subject will be raised at next week's meeting in Luxembourg under the EU-Russia Association Agreement.

"The Spanish presi dency considers that the situation in Chechnya is a key element with the EU's relations in Russia, and will work toward a peaceful solution in the context of territorial integrity, the rule of law and respect for human rights, and it will also promote the improvement of conditions in order to secure an efficient distribution of humanitarian aid," Rico said.

Another speaker in the Strasbourg debate was the EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, Poul Nielson, who defended the commission from criticism during the debate that the EU's aid was not reaching its intended target.

"I cannot recognize the figure of only 3 percent [of EU aid] actually reaching the right people. If this was true, the 200,000 refugees in Ingushetia would no longer be alive. We are able to do things that actually work, but we're not trying in any way to portray this as a flawless, or easy, operation," Nielson said. "It is extremely difficult and that is why we have to continue putting pressure on the Russian authoriti es."

Nielson said the commission is determined to continue this humanitarian work, adding that there is "no weakening whatsoever" in that determination. He said the question of a broader political dialogue emphasizing human rights must be kept separate f rom humanitarian aid efforts, as mixing the two would put at risk attempts by international aid organizations to access the troubled region. Nielson also emphasized that the EU considers aid to Chechnya to be a priority.

"Let me again stress the fact th at we are present in the region, and we are present in Chechnya. And the level of humanitarian aid funded by the [European] Commission of 40 million euros ($35 million) in 2001 is clear evidence of the priority that we give to this crisis and to the suffe ring in Chechnya," Nielson said.

The European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Chechnya and for both sides to find a political solution. The resolution also said that while recognizing that Russia has taken "some constructive measures" in Chechnya to investigate human rights abuses, the parliament deplores the fact that a huge gap remains between the number of complaints and the number of prosecutions.Ì