Russia

UN's Robinson due in Moscow for Chechnya talks

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By Ron Popeski

MOSCOW, April 3 (Reuters) - U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson returns to Moscow on Monday to discuss alleged human rights breaches in Chechnya with top ministers after being unable to visit sites she had deemed vital to her investigation.

Robinson's spokesman Jose Diaz said Russian authorities had denied Robinson access to a number of villages and a detention centre, citing distance or continuing military operations against separatist militants in the region.

Her delegation was grounded overnight by bad weather in Dagestan, a Russian region on Chechnya's eastern border.

Officials in the Urals city of Perm, meanwhile, announced that the first funerals of police commandos killed in a rebel ambush last week in Chechnya's mountains would take place on Tuesday, proclaimed a day of mourning in the region.

The death toll rose in the attack in the Vedeno gorge, the latest in a series of losses inflicted on Russian troops, with one official putting it at 43. The raids have called into question Russian statements that all but the last vestiges of resistance have been quelled.

Robinson's schedule, should the weather allow her to fly to the capital, included talks with Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo,

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russia's chief spokesmen on Chechnya and the military prosecutor. Diaz said she had also sought a meeting with President-elect Vladimir Putin.

Speaking by telephone from Dagestan's capital Makhachkala, Diaz said Robinson was confident the talks would prove useful, but admitted her brief tour of Chechnya's shattered capital Grozny had been frustrating.

"The High Commissioner had asked to visit a number of locations, none of which were satisfied. So there was some disappointment and frustration," he said.

BARRED FROM VILLAGES

Diaz said the Russians had refused to allow Robinson access to three villages west of Grozny -- Alkhan-Yurt, Alkhan-Kala and Katyr-Yurt -- and Aldi on the edge of the capital. Human rights groups allege Russian troops killed civilians in these areas.

She was also unable to visit a detention centre in the village of Urus-Martan.

"For some places, like the villages, they said they were too far away, for Aldi they said military operations were taking place," he said. Robinson found it "ironic", he said, that she was taken to a detention centre in Grozny whose only inmates were two women charged with looting.

Germany's ZDF television showed Robinson at a hospital and market and listening to residents talk about life in a city all but reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment and street battles.

"It is not possible to speak of human rights being protected here," she told ZDF. She said her aim was to find out about Chechens who have been arrested and about "the crimes of the Russian army committed on the civilian population."

Robinson, who also saw refugee camps, has been even-handed in accusing Russian forces and Chechen rebels of abuses.

ZDF showed her telling a senior officer that she was aware of "unacceptable violence and human rights violations" by the Chechen side but also referring to "very serious problems of human rights violations" by Russian servicemen.

Western human rights organisations have compiled evidence of what they say are Russian army excesses in Chechnya, from which Russia withdrew in 1996 after a defeat in a 20-month war.

Russia's human rights commissioner, Oleg Mironov, who accompanied Robinson, was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying Russian forces were operating within the confines of the law, but that some excesses were unavoidable.

Tass quoted him as saying that the trip added little to his knowledge and those criticising Russia should help instead.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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