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Russia: European Envoy Says Chechen Referendum Should Be Put Off

Moscow, 24 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A senior envoy from the Council of Europe says Russia should put off a planned constitutional referendum in Chechnya. Frank Judd, the rapporteur for Chechnya to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told a news conference in Moscow today that the security situation in Russia's breakaway republic does not allow wide discussion on the proposed new constitution.

He said he will recommend that the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, ask Russia to reconsider the timing of the referendum.

The new constitution would bind separatist Chechnya with the Russian Federation. The vote has been scheduled for late March. It is to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections in a bid by Russia to demonstrate it has Chechnya under control.

Judd earlier this week visited Chechnya and refugee camps in Russia's neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

Rudolf Bindig, a member of the PACE delegation, said prosecutors in Chechnya are failing to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, massacres, and mysterious disappearances. Humanitarian groups have accused Russian troops of committing widespread abuses in the separatist republic.