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Sunday, 2 January, 2000, 17:19 GMT
Tories: Help Russia win in Chechnya

Russian soldiers Russian soldiers prepare to shell Grozny

A senior Tory has sparked anger by calling on the government not to be over-critical of Russia's campaign in Chechnya and to work towards a quick Russian victory.

Shadow foreign secretary John Maples said he wanted to see the Russians win the conflict as soon as possible, after reports that chemical weapons had been used by the Chechens.

"We ought to be careful of the tone in which we criticise the Russians because there is not anything we can do about it anyway," he told Sky News.

John Maples John Maples: Sooner Russians are successful, the better
"The Russians are decided and set upon the policy they are pursuing, the sooner they are successful, the better."

Asked about reports that the Chechen rebels had used chlorine and ammonia bombs against Russian troops, he said: "This is a total war and it is bound to be fought in very, very brutal ways.

"All the West can do is try to persuade the Russians to seek a negotiated settlement wherever there appears to be an opportunity to do that and to do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of refugees."

But Labour backbencher and former shadow foreign secretary Gerald Kaufman reacted angrily to Mr Maples' remarks.

"It is fortunate that the views of the Conservative Party in Britain do not count for anything because if they did, the thoughtless statements by John Maples about Chechnya could do serious damage to the international efforts to bring the fighting to an end," he said.

"I cannot believe that Mr Maples condones the use of non-conventional weapons, but it certainly sounds as though he does, and it certainly sounds as though he believes the only course of action is a victory by arms.

"That is not the policy of the United Nations, that is not the policy of the United Kingdom, and it should not be the policy of any responsible politician."

'Political solution'

According to the Russian military, Chechen rebels holding the capital Grozny have detonated several bombs containing toxic substances.

The bombs, supposedly containing chlorine and ammonia, were set off overnight in Grozny's eastern suburbs leaving a greenish cloud hanging over the city centre where many civilians are trapped.

On Saturday, the UK Government urged acting Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate a solution to the crisis.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said it was time to find a "political solution" to the crisis, which has put new strain on Russo-British relations.

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See also:
01 Jan 00 |  Europe
Putin defends Grozny offensive
01 Jan 00 |  Europe
Battle for Chechnya: Special report
01 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Cook confident of Russian continuity

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