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Russia Refuses to Allow Rights Monitors in Chechnya - 2003-01-13

Russia says it is cutting off talks on allowing human rights monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to renew their mission in Chechnya.

Russian diplomats said on Monday that they have ended talks with the OSCE on allowing human rights monitors to stay in Russia's breakaway province of Chechnya.

A small OSCE office in the north of Chechnya closed at the end of last year, after negotiators failed to reach a compromise with the Russians on the activities of the monitors, who have criticized the behavior of Russian troops in their fight against Chechen separatists.

Russian officials want the OSCE to reduce its human rights monitoring in Chechnya and concentrate on relief work.

Western diplomats at the Vienna headquarters of the pan-European security organization say the United States and the European Union are pressing Moscow to allow the observers to continue their work.

The new chairman of the OSCE, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, told reporters in Vienna that he plans to go to Moscow to discuss the Chechnya question with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer says the OSCE must have the permission of the Russian government, if it is to continue its activities in Chechnya.

The OSCE was founded in the 1970s as a forum for reducing the threat of war in divided Europe. After the collapse of communism, the OSCE set up field offices promoting democratic institutions and monitoring human rights in about 20 states.

Officials in Russia and other formerly communist states have complained that the OSCE field missions meddle in their internal affairs.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer says he is looking for a relatively quick solution to the Chechnya problem, adding this will be difficult.

Russia has announced a referendum for March 23 on a new constitution for Chechnya. Refusal by Russia to allow an OSCE presence means there will be no way to monitor voting procedures.

Both the United States and Russia are among the 55 members of the OSCE security watchdog.