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European Human Rights Official Urges End to Russian, Chechen Fighting - 2001-12-06

Following a visit to the Russian republic of Chechnya, one of Europe's top human rights officials stopped in Moscow Thursday and called for an end to fighting between Russian forces and Chechen separatists.

Frank Judd headed a delegation from the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe that visited the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The assembly works to protect human rights throughout Europe. At a news conference in Moscow, Mr. Judd said a political solution must be found to end the conflict, and representatives from all parts of Chechen society must be involved in finding that solution.

Mr. Judd also severely criticized conditions at many of the refugee camps in Chechnya, calling them "grotesque." He said the situation is particularly dangerous, because winter is setting in and people have only tents to protect them from the snow.

The European parliamentarian also questioned whether Russia was doing enough to protect human rights in Chechnya. He said there is a huge gap between the number of complaints that are filed to the human rights office for Chechnya set up by the Russian government and the number of cases the office actually investigates.

The Russian military waged a bloody war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996, when it withdrew in a humiliating defeat. Russian forces invaded Chechnya again in 1999, in response to Chechen rebel incursions into neighboring Dagestan and a series of apartment bombings that Russian authorities blamed on Chechen rebels.

The Russian government says it has the situation in Chechnya under control, but fighting continues, and there are almost daily reports of casualties. Numerous human rights organizations have accused the Russian military of harassing and torturing innocent Chechen civilians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Russian army is fighting terrorists who are no different than those who attacked the United States on September 11. Both Russia and the United States have said they believe there are links between some of the Chechen rebels and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.