Russia

Czech NGO says Russia forces it to close Chechen ops

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PRAGUE, July 14 (Reuters) - Czech humanitarian aid agency People in Need is closing its operations in Russia's turbulent republic of Chechnya after the Russian authorities refused accreditation needed to work in the country, the agency said.

People in Need describes itself as one of the biggest groups working in the North Caucasus region and most of its programmes focused on aid in Chechnya where Russian troops have been fighting separatist rebels for a decade.

Many aid workers in and around Chechnya say they are harassed by the authorities. They also face the threat of kidnapping and even murder, which has led some major aid agencies to stop work in Chechnya.

Russian officials say they support aid groups and give them all access that security allows. But Russia's Federal Security Service has accused some NGOs of spying and even training Chechen fighters.

"The organisation has been under systematic pressure from Russian authorities, who in April 2005 denied (its) request to renew its accreditation for work in the Russian Federation," the agency said in a statement on Thursday.

"People in Need views the Russian authorities' decision... as unfortunate, unfounded and unfair," the statement said.

Officials at the Russian Justice Ministry, which is responsible for registration of aid agencies, were not immediately available for comment.

People in Need is a leading Czech non-governmental aid organisation, and one of the first aid groups which started providing aid to Chechnya in 2000 after Russian troops stormed the capital Grozny.

The agency's director Simon Panek told Reuters the organisation had failed to overturn the April decision within a following three-month period given to wind down operations.

But he said he did not want to provoke conflict with the authorities, and was still hoping the Russian government would grant a new permit, perhaps later this year.

People in Need said it had delivered aid worth 20 million euros ($24 million) to Caucasus over the past five years. It had an operational centre in Ingushetia province neighbouring Chechnya.

Its programmes focused on deliveries of food and building materials to repair damaged homes, as well as reconstruction of schools and hospitals. It said it had also run psychological centres and clubs for children in Chechnya.

The agency said some programmes have been handed over to a local organisation while others have been terminated.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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