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Council of Europe Urges Inclusion of All Parties in Chechen Talks - 2002-09-05

The leader of a Council of Europe delegation on Chechnya, Frank Ashcroft Judd, is urging Russia to include all parties, including separatist rebels, in future peace talks about the breakaway Russian Republic. Lord Judd issued the appeal during a news conference in Moscow, following a two-day visit to the capital of the war-torn republic.

Mr. Judd says the Council of Europe remains as concerned as ever about the human rights situation in Chechnya and the condition of refugees in neighboring Ingushetia, as well as about the security situation in the region overall.

Mr. Judd was in Moscow after leading a delegation from the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly on a two-day visit to Grozny. The delegation was joined by members of the Russian State Duma.

Mr. Judd told the news conference that he saw small signs of progress in Chechnya. He says the most pressing issue is to reach a political settlement in the republic that is going to be stable and secure.

For that to happen, he says, a wide cross section of Chechen society, including separatist rebels, must be at the table at any future peace talks. "If there is any significant element excluded, that group is there to directly undermine what has been achieved," he said. "Therefore, it is practical, as well as being politically and constitutionally right [to] get a broader base for [a political settlement]."

Mr. Judd says he realizes such talks will be difficult, especially for Russian officials who view the separatist rebels as terrorists. And he noted that he had gotten into a bit of trouble, as he put it, last time he uttered similar views in Russia. But he says he stands by the appeal all the same. "Otherwise, we may get an illusory sort of settlement that immediately begins to unravel," said Frank Ashcroft Judd.

Pro-Moscow Chechen Administration Chief Akhmad Kadyrov has said the Russian Federation will not negotiate with what he called terrorists, at a time the whole world is united against such forces.

Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after an unsuccessful two-year war against the rebels. But they returned in 1999, following alleged rebel incursions into Dagestan and a series of apartment house bombings in Russia that authorities in Moscow blamed on the rebels.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated into a guerrilla-style war, with heavy casualties on both sides. Nevertheless, Russia stands firm in its claim that federal forces have complete control of the region and that life is returning to normal.

Mr. Judd says that is not the message he will be giving in his report to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg.