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Chechen Refugees Refuse Resettlement Offer - 2002-11-28

A top official in the breakaway region of Chechnya said Thursday, refugees who return to Chechnya from camps in neighboring areas will receive financial help to resettle. But refugees say they are unwilling to return, as long as the fighting continues in Chechnya.

Chechen Prime Minister Mikhail Babich announced Thursday, the Russian government would pay for temporary housing for refugees who return to Chechnya from camps in the neighboring region of Ingushetia.

Mr. Babich said refugees would also receive a small amount of money for bread after they return to their war-torn homeland.

On Wednesday, other officials in the pro-Russian Chechen administration said they plan to close many refugee camps by the end of December, despite international criticism of the move.

An estimated 70,000 refugees have fled years of conflict in Chechnya, and have refused to return because of the fighting there. They say the resettlement plan is a way for Russia to support its claim the war in the separatist region is over.

European Union officials have expressed concern about the safety of refugees who may be forced to return. They say involuntary repatriation to a conflict zone would be against international law.

The level of violence in Chechnya continues unabated with daily clashes between Russian troops and separatist rebels.

Land mines are another major problem in most of the mountainous republic.

Local officials insist no one will have to return who does not want to. But earlier this year, human rights groups said water and food supplies had been cut off in some camps. Some refugees also say Russian soldiers threatened to burn down their tents starting on December 1.