Chechnya dominates Kofi Annan's talks with Russian politicians

Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Moscow Thursday for two days of talks with Russian leaders, including his first encounter with Acting President Vladimir Putin.
The situation in Chechnya dominated his discussions this afternoon with Gennady Seleznyov, Speaker of the newly-elected lower house of Parliament. According to Mr. Annan's spokesman, the Secretary-General said the international community was against terrorism but also wanted to ensure the protection of innocent civilians in conflict situations. Mr. Annan expressed his alarm at the toll the conflict had taken among the civilian population. For his part, Mr. Seleznyov described the security situation in Chechnya and the Government's efforts "to care for the refugees and resettle them."

Chechnya was also high on the agenda of Mr. Annan's meeting with Egor Stroyev, president of the Foundation Council or upper house of Parliament. According to the spokesman, Russia's relations with international organizations and the situation in Kosovo were among other issues discussed. Mr. Stroyev said he was confident that the fighting would be over soon, adding that it was hoped everything would be resolved by the elections planned in Chechnya for March 26.

The Secretary-General later told journalists he hoped for an end of the conflict as soon as possible so that civilians could "get on with their lives." But in the meantime, he added, "we should do everything we can to protect and ensure their rights."

In the evening, Mr. Annan attended a private dinner with former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.