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Chechnya: Human Rights Group Criticizes European Envoy

Moscow, 21 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian human rights activists today accused a leading European human rights envoy to Russia of too readily accepting the Kremlin's assurances that the human rights situation in Chechnya is under control. The head of the Memorial human rights group, Oleg Orlov, expressed discontent to Frank Judd, who is heading a Council of Europe delegation planning to visit Chechnya tomorrow on a fact-finding mission. Orlov said Judd's group is "not serious or thorough enough" in its work at monitoring the situation in the separatist republic.

Judd called on the Kremlin to ensure that Chechens be allowed to play an informed role in the upcoming referendum in March on a new constitution.

The fact-finding mission includes Judd, from Britain; Poland's Tadeusz Iwinski; and Germany's Rudolf Bindig, chairmen of the Council of Europe's Political, Legal, and Migration committees, respectively.

Interfax reported that the three delegates were in Moscow yesterday, where they met with Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov. They discussed the human rights situation in Chechnya, particularly investigations of crimes committed by federal forces against civilians.

The delegation also met with Stanislav Ilyasov, the minister in charge of Chechnya's social and economic development.

The delegation is due to leave Moscow for Chechnya tomorrow and to report to the council's Parliamentary Assembly next week.

Earlier today, Chechnya's separatist president, Aslan Maskhadov, said Chechens need not resort to terrorism in their fight to win freedom from Russia, despite Russian charges to the contrary. Maskhadov, in an audiotaped response to AFP questions, said Russian leaders are "jumping out of their skin" in attempts to link the Chechen freedom fight with international terrorism.

He accused Western countries of "turning a blind eye to Chechnya's woes." He said Western countries "play Russia's game to suit their own strategic and regional problems" and are using Chechnya as a "coin for barter."

Maskhadov was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in polls widely regarded as fair and accepted by Moscow. But Russia, since launching its latest military campaign in Chechnya in October 1999, has rejected Maskhadov's legitimacy and accuses him of masterminding terrorist attacks. Maskhadov denies the charge.