RUSSIA TO CLOSE CHECHEN REFUGEE CAMPS
- RUSSIA TO CLOSE CHECHEN REFUGEE CAMPS, EU ALARMED
Maria Golovnina, Reuters, 11/27/02
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said Wednesday it would close "tent
cities" housing tens of thousands of Chechen refugees by late
December, but the European Union expressed concern over the safety
of those who may be forced to go home.
More than 70,000 Chechen refugees, up to 30,000 of them living in
tents, are refusing to return to the war-torn homeland they fled
after Russia began its second post-Soviet drive to crush the
southern province's bid for independence in 1999.
"There is an intention to send these people back to their native
lands in the nearest future, perhaps in December," Aleksei Vasin,
spokesman for the pro-Russian Chechen administration, told Reuters
from the regional capital Grozny.
The European Union, a major aid donor to Chechnya, said a lack of
security in the separatist region did not allow for the safe return
of refugees, mainly sheltering in Russia's tiny province of
Ingushetia, which borders mostly Muslim Chechnya.
"The European Commission, and the international community at large,
have repeatedly asked the authorities not to close any camp in
Ingushetia...," Poul Nielson, the EU's top aid official, said in a
"Forcing (refugees) to go back to Chechnya, where the conflict is
still going on, would be against international humanitarian law as
well as conventions that the Russian Federation is party to," he
One refugee family told Reuters it was leaving for Grozny along with
30 other families after local officials threatened to start burning
their tents on Dec. 1.
Earlier this year, the Vienna-based International Helsinki
Federation accused Moscow of trying to force the refugees out by
cutting off their water and food supplies. It also said the
authorities have failed to set up adequate accommodation...