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Russia: EU Issues Cautious Assessment Of Chechen Elections

Brussels, 6 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission says it doubts yesterday's presidential elections in Chechnya were "free or fair."

The Kremlin-appointed head of the Chechen administration, Akhmed-hadki Kadyrov, was today officially declared the winner of the elections with about 80 percent of the vote. His main rivals were either disqualified or withdrew from the race before the poll.

Diego de Ojeda, spokesman for Chris Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, said despite the dubious circumstances surrounding the poll, the EU supports any moves aimed at restoring peace in the breakaway republic. "It is clear that the situation on the ground is extremely complex and difficult, and it casts doubt [on] the possibility of conducting free and fair elections according to international standards," he said. "Nevertheless, what is most important to us is that these elections somehow gain respectability or credibility -- or legitimacy, more accurately -- within the Chechen population."

While international nongovernmental organizations have largely condemned the elections, major Western governments have been cautious about criticizing the vote. There were no EU observers present for the elections, as both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe declined to send monitoring missions.

De Ojeda said the EU "shares" a number of concerns expressed by many NGOs -- such as the continued use of military checkpoints and the fact that many Chechens outside the republic were not allowed to vote while many Russian soldiers inside the republic were.

But the spokesman said the EU sees the elections as an internal Russian matter, and supports all "genuine" efforts by Moscow to end its four-year war in the republic -- as long as they have the support of the majority of the Chechen population.

"Since these are internal elections, we look at the whole issue in Chechnya from a wider perspective, and that is [that] we would like to support any genuine efforts to solve the conflict in Chechnya. The [constitutional] referendum earlier in the year, [and] now the elections, are steps that the Russian leadership have declared are aimed toward a definitive settlement of the conflict in Chechnya. What we would like to underline is the need for the majority of the Chechen population to agree and subscribe to this process. And in that sense we welcome any steps taken by the Russian leadership and the Chechen leadership to gather a consensus among the majority of the Chechen population," de Ojeda said.

De Ojeda said the success of the election will ultimately be measured by its contribution to the process of "finding a [political] consensus that attracts the majority of the Chechen population." Such a consensus, he said, would be the decisive factor in ending the conflict.

The spokesman said the EU has no independent view on the legitimacy of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as president of Chechnya, noting the EU does not pass judgment on the outcomes of Russia's internal elections.