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Russia gives green light to Red Cross in Chechnya

Russia's president-elect, Vladimir Putin (pictured right), has given the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross permission to visit detention centres in Chechnya, after a meeting with the ICRC head, Jakob Kellenberger (pictured left).

This content was published on March 30, 2000 - 21:20

Russia's president-elect, Vladimir Putin (pictured right), has given the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross permission to visit detention centres in Chechnya, after a meeting with the ICRC head, Jakob Kellenberger(pictured left).

The ICRC, and other human rights organisations, had called for international observers to be allowed to visit the prisons run by Russian forces in the breakaway republic, after allegations of beatings and torture.

"The most important thing is that we have a green light from the head of state", said Kellenberger. Until now, the ICRC had limited its work to bringing aid to refugees outside the borders of Chechnya.

The organisation pulled its international delegates out of Chechnya in 1996, after six of them were murdered. It withdrew its local staff in November 1999 due to fears about their security.

Kellenberger said the final talks to set the ground rules for an ICRC mission may go on for "weeks", and that dangerous conditions may prevent visits to some detainees. Russia has consistently said that risks to the safety of foreign observers are a key factor preventing humanitarian missions.

"There may be some grey areas where we have to decide which groups are covered," Kellenberger said. He also said his talks had focused on how to assure the security of an ICRC mission, without compromising the organisation's neutrality.

The go-ahead for an ICRC mission comes days ahead of a meeting on April 3 and 4, at which the Council of Europe is to decide whether to suspend Russia's membership because of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The Council voted on January 27 to delay a decision on suspension, and gave Russia two months to fulfill certain criteria, including allowing access to international observers.

Kellenberger refused to comment on whether Putin's decision was linked to the Council vote. However, he said the ICRC and the Russian authorities had been in talks for some time, covering aid to refugees and the monitoring of detention camps.

At his meeting with Kellenberger, Putin also approved a Sfr 30 million ICRC aid package to help people inside the republic's borders.


swissinfo with agencies

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