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Europe

Chechnya on the Agenda

Germany and Russia will hold high-level talks in April. One of the topics will be the war against terror – and the contentious issue of human rights violations in Chechnya.

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Chechens say Russia is violating human rights

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov were all smiles on Thursday. They wrapped up a meeting in Berlin reiterating that the bilateral relations were excellent. The aim of their talks was to prepare a Russian German summit next month.

But only a day before the Berlin meeting, the German Foreign Minister had harshly criticized Russian human rights violations in Chechnya. In a speech to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Fischer called "the use of military force against the civilian population ... unacceptable and not compatible with European and international norms."

Chechnya on the agenda

Joschka Fischer is known as a man who doesn't mince his words. What he said in Geneva concerning Chechnya appears to have triggered something in Igor Ivanov. When Fischer and Ivanov met on Thursday, Chechnya was again on the agenda. And this time, the Russian Foreign Minister showed himself forthcoming on the issue.

Ivanov acknowledged that Moscow and the West disagreed over Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. He said the best way to clarify such differences of opinion was openness.

The Russian Foreign Minister said Russia would grant any international organization access to Chechnya. Representatives from the Red Cross, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or the Council of Europe (CoE) were free to travel to the breakaway republic.

Earlier this month, the Council of Europe had published a draft report which called for a proper investigation into all cases of human rights violations and the abuse of power in Chechnya. The CoE urged that all perpetrators irrespective of their functions should be prosecuted.

German-Russian talks scheduled for April

Chechnya is also due to be an issue at high-level German-Russian talks in April. Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the eastern German city of Weimar on April 9 and 10.

The heads of government will be joined by cabinet members from both sides. The focus of the talks will be on the fight against organized crime and the War Against Terror.

Many observers in the West feel that Russia is trying to legitimize wrongdoing in Chechnya by saying the operations are part of the War Against Terror. Russia claims the Muslim rebels in Chechnya have ties to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

German foreign Minister Joschka Fischer this week acknowledged Russia's right to defend itself against terrorists. But he criticized the tendency to legitimize human rights violations by labeling them as a fight against terrorism.

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