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Chechnya: Peoples' Congress Moves To Gudermes

Moscow, 11 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Kremlin-backed congress of Chechen peoples has been moved from Grozny to Chechnya's eastern city of Gudermes. Supiyan Makhchaev, Grozny's deputy mayor, today said the move was dictated by security considerations. He said the authorities are concerned that Chechen separatists could stage "terrorist" acts and upset the forum.

The meeting, due to start later today, is expected to include discussion of plans for a referendum on a new Chechen constitution. Moscow-backed Chechen officials say about 420 delegates from across Chechnya and Chechen communities in other regions are expected to participate in the gathering.

In Moscow, a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin's Human Rights Commission, Lyudmila Alekseeva, said Putin has pledged that Chechen refugees will not be forced to return to Chechnya against their will. Alekseeva, who is also chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said Putin told the presidential Human Rights Commission that the return of refugees to Chechnya from camps in Ingushetia must be voluntary.

The United Nations, the United States and human rights organizations have accused Russian authorities of forcing Chechens to leave the camps in Ingushetia.