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Nick Childs reports from Moscow:
"This could also be a dangerous mission"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
EU envoys in Chechnya mission
The ambassadors will assess Chechnya's reconstruction needs
Three European Union ambassadors are visiting the North Caucasus as part of continuing efforts to investigate the situation in Chechnya.

The Portuguese and French ambassadors to Moscow, and the head of the EU mission there, will look at the human rights situation in the war-torn province, and assess the level of damage and reconstruction needs.

They will start in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, and then on Friday will visit several locations in Chechnya, including Grozny and Argun.

Earlier this month the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, paid an acrimonious visit to the region in which she was denied access to places she wanted to see.

'Open spirit'

The ambassadors have made it clear they are not planning to lecture Russia on human rights.

"We are going to Chechnya in an absolutely open spirit and ready to embrace all ideas," EU envoy Gilbert Dubois told the Russian television station NTV.
Chechen refugee
The humanitarian situation will be investigated

"We want to meet all segments of the population and speak with everyone" he said.

"The European Union could help to understand the future role of federal and local authorities" he added.

The trio, comprising Mr Dubois, the Portuguese ambassador Jose Luis-Gomes and France's Hubert Colin de Verdiere, is scheduled to meet the top Russian official in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman.

Rebuilding contacts

The mission could prove difficult for the ambassadors, as it did for Mary Robinson.

Both the European Union and Russia seem anxious to try to manage their differences over Chechnya.

We want to understand what the sources and roots of this conflict are

Gilbert Dubois

Moscow gave the green light for the EU troika's visit two weeks ago in a meeting with President-elect Vladimir Putin.

But it reiterated its refusal on Thursday to allow any foreign mediators to help resolve the Chechen conflict.

"We can perfectly well take care of ourselves" said Russian Security Council chief Sergei Ivanov.

The BBC's Nick Childs says that although Russia continues to assert its right to take what action it deems necessary, it is also keen to try to rebuild contacts with the West.

Fighting continues

Meanwhile in Chechnya itself fighting is continuing.

Russia has sent an additional 500 reinforcements to the south of the province to swoop on rebels holding out in the difficult and remote mountainous areas, according to the Interfax news agency.

We must finish the bandits off

Nikolai Koshman

Colonel-General Valery Manilov told a news conference that Moscow was changing tactics and switching from large-scale assaults to special operations to capture rebel commanders.

Russian top official Nikolai Koshman has ruled out any peace talks with Chechnya's elected president Aslan Mashkadov.

"He does not control anything and it is useless to conduct negotiations with him", Mr Koshman told Russian news agencies.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Europe
Chechen visit a mixed success
10 Apr 00 | Europe
Chechnya on EU agenda
07 Apr 00 | Europe
EU envoys to visit Chechnya
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