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US Disappointed Over Closure of OSCE Mission in Chechnya - 2003-01-02

The United States is expressing disappointment over Russia's closure of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Chechnya. U.S. diplomats are trying to find a way to extend the OSCE mission there.

The OSCE mission in Chechnya represented the only permanent international presence in the war-ravaged Russian republic, and it was forced to close down with the advent of the new year, after the failure of negotiations between Russia and the OSCE on a new mandate.

Russia had wanted the six-member mission to end efforts to resolve the Chechnya conflict and to focus on coordinating delivery of humanitarian aid, while U.S. and other Western governments had wanted the OSCE group to at least continue monitoring human rights conditions there.

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is disappointed over Moscow's decision to end the OSCE's Chechnya presence, though he said the Bush administration has not given up hope that the international mission can be restored. "We are engaged in an effort to find a suitable formula as soon as possible that will allow the mission to continue its constructive engagement and its highly beneficial humanitarian efforts," said Richard Boucher. "The United States believes the mission still has valuable role to play in promoting and protecting human rights in Chechnya, and in aiding economic development, and we're seeking with other members of the OSCE to address those concerns."

The OSCE mission first went to Chechnya in 1995 in the midst of the three-year war between Russian forces and Chechen rebels, and helped oversee the election of a local government led by Aslan Maskhadov, whose legitimacy Moscow has refused to recognize.

The Bush administration has repeatedly told Russian leaders there can be no military solution to the on-going Chechen problem, while also strongly condemning acts of terrorism by Chechens such as last week's truck-bombing of Russian offices in regional capital, Grozny, that killed more than 80 people.

The United States has called on Chechen political leaders to renounce acts of terror and to cut ties to terrorist groups and with Chechens affiliated with them.