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AFP: EU pledges support for Russia's peace plan in Chechnya

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  • Norbert Strade
    EU pledges support for Russia s peace plan in Chechnya SAINT PETERSBURG, May 31 (AFP) - The European Union supports Russia s efforts to bring peace to its
    Message 1 of 1 , May 31, 2003
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      EU pledges support for Russia's peace plan in Chechnya

      SAINT PETERSBURG, May 31 (AFP) - The European Union supports Russia's
      efforts to bring peace to its breakaway republic of Chechnya, Greek
      Prime Minister Costas Simitis said here on Saturday at an EU-Russia

      "The European Union will continue to support the efforts of Russian
      leaders to carry out a policy aiming to bring peace back to Chechnya,"
      said Simitis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

      European observers have been the most critical of Russia's war in
      Chechnya, urging President Vladimir Putin to end the nearly
      four-year-old conflict that has killed thousands of Russian soldiers and
      an unknown number of civilians.

      Simitis praised the Russian president's peace plan, launched with a
      constitutional referendum in March and a subsequent offer of rebel

      "The recent referendum, combined with the approved amnesty, is an
      important step forward," he said.

      Russia's lower house of parliament last week passed the proposed amnesty
      upon first reading, two months after Chechens overwhelmingly adopted a
      new constitution fixing the republic's place in the Russian Federation.

      But many observers have criticized the process, urging Putin to open
      peace talks with separatist rebels in the mainly Muslim republic.

      British Prime Minister Tony Blair also praised the controversial peace
      process, saying: "I think it is absolutely right that you resolve that
      through the political process and political dialogue that you have
      engaged in."

      Blair said the referendum result was "a very, very important step

      The final declaration issued after the summit's end mentioned the
      contentious Chechen issue despite initial opposition from Moscow.

      Russia and the EU "note the recent referendum and express the hope that
      the recently launched political process, as well as social and economic
      development, will bring back a state based on law that favorizes the
      protection of human rights and finally a real reconciliation in
      Chechnya," it said.

      The text condemned "all forms of violence, particularly terrorist acts,
      that can put in doubt the perspective of a political solution."

      Putin has insisted the political plan will continue, despite a spate of
      deadly rebel attacks that have killed more than 80 people in the last
      month alone.

      "We are working on granting the fullest autonomy to Chechnya possible,"
      he said. "The political process will be continued."

      French President Jacques Chirac said European leaders wanted to
      underline "our common hope to see the March 23 referendum open the path
      to peace and reconciliation in the framework of a poiltical process."

      Yet Chirac also told journalists after the EU-Russia summit that several
      heads of state had urged the Russian leadership to allow for "a certain
      amount of transparency that allows important and recognized
      nongovernmental organizations" to work in the war-torn republic.

      Putin assured his Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende that the search
      would continue for a Dutch doctor kidnapped in Dagestan in August while
      working with aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctor Without Borders)
      in the southern republic, which neighbors Chechnya.

      "The case of Arjan Erkel is a manifestation of the terrorism that also
      threatens other countries. We will continue our search efforts," Putin
      said. (*)

      Russian officials have said they know the Dutch doctor is alive, but
      have no idea of his whereabouts.

      * And of course, nobody spoke up, though everybody knows that there
      hasn't been one single abduction or murder of human rights workers in
      which Putin's secret services haven't been involved in one way or the
      other. N.S.
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