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Chechnya: Council Of Europe's Rapporteur Threatens To Step Down In Protest

Lord Frank Judd, the Council of Europe's special envoy on Chechnya, threatened today to resign from his post in protest over a resolution passed by the council's Parliamentary Assembly. The resolution, passed yesterday in Strasbourg, warned that Russia may not have enough time to create what was termed the "necessary conditions" for a constitutional referendum in Chechnya planned for 23 March. But it stopped short of calling for the referendum to be delayed, a last-minute omission that apparently spurred Judd, the resolution's author, to threaten to step down.

Prague, 30 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- One of Europe's most outspoken critics of Russia's war in Chechnya threatened to relinquish his post today, calling further into question any future chance for peace in the war-torn republic. Lord Frank Judd, the rapporteur for Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), threatened to resign today, citing PACE's failure to back his proposal that Russia delay a constitutional referendum in Chechnya scheduled for 23 March.

"Were the referendum to go ahead for the planned date, I would have failed to persuade the Russian authorities to accept my analysis," Judd said today. "In those circumstances, I would have no alternative but to resign both as rapporteur and as co-chair of the joint working group of the [Russian State] Duma and PACE on Chechnya."

PACE yesterday passed a resolution that warned that Russia did not have sufficient time to create the "necessary conditions" for the scheduled referendum. But it stopped short of calling for the referendum to be delayed, something Judd had stressed in the resolution's original draft.

The resolution yesterday called on Moscow to seek a peaceful, political solution to the situation in Chechnya, where a brutal war between federal troops and separatist militants has entered its fourth year with no end in sight.

But Russian officials said today that they will proceed with the scheduled referendum in Chechnya despite the PACE resolution.

Judd, who traveled to the breakaway republic last week, said the security situation there remains fragile and that few Chechens understand the significance of the referendum, which is expected to force the republic's return to Russian control.

Addressing PACE yesterday before the resolution was passed, Judd said there was "no way" for the proper conditions to be in place for the Chechen referendum by 23 March. "I must make it clear -- and I want there to be no doubt whatsoever about this -- that having seen what I have just seen last week, there is no way I personally believe these conditions can be fulfilled by the 23rd of March. It is naive to pretend otherwise. In my view, the recommendations of the [PACE] Political Affairs Committee can only be fulfilled by a postponement of that date," Judd said.

Judd said a completely different political and security atmosphere should be created in Chechnya to allow people to participate safely in politics. He said violence -- ranging from disappearances to killing, torture, and other forms of harassment -- persists in the republic, making it "far too dangerous" to send observers to some parts of Chechnya. Furthermore, Judd said, proper procedural preparations have not been made for the referendum.

A key issue, he said, is the question of Chechen refugees. The envoy said his visit to refugee camps in Ingushetia did not turn up a single person who had seen a copy of the proposed constitution. According to official data, there are some 70,000 refugees from Chechnya in Ingushetia, but Chechen refugee organizations say the figure is closer to 150,000. It remains unclear how these refugees will be able to take part in the referendum.

Another issue raised by Judd is the status of some 30,000 Russian troops permanently stationed in the area who will be allowed to participate. He said Russian officials have yet to offer a legal explanation for such "permanent" stations.

Judd said that if Russian authorities proceed with the referendum, it will create only more bitterness and disillusion in a region already devastated by conflict. "The constitution cannot be an end in itself. Of course, a referendum will be essential at the right time, but I emphasize -- at the right time. The democratic and security context for that referendum is crucially important. Without that being right, a referendum will be positively dangerous. It has, after all, been used too often by dictators in recent European history," Judd said.

Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and the head of PACE's Russian delegation, said yesterday that Russia "will take into account the criticism we heard here and try to implement all the recommendations made at the session with regard to the preparation for the referendum."

Rogozin also credited his delegation with pushing through an amendment muzzling Judd's call to delay the referendum.

Marius Vahl, an analyst with the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, said European initiatives on Chechnya rarely result in substantive policy changes in Moscow. "They [the Russian authorities] haven't really taken the Council of Europe resolutions or actions in general [in Chechnya] much into account over the last, almost the last decade. So, I don't really see why they would do it now. I mean, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has invested quite a bit of political capital into this referendum," Vahl said.

Vahl said the West has the power to put more significant pressure on Russia. But ultimately, he said, it lacks the will to take serious steps, preferring cooperation in areas of mutual interest over confrontation on Chechnya.