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US to press Russia on Chechnya in Shanghai talks: Powell

SHANGHAI, Oct 18 (AFP) - The United States will press Russia on finding a political solution to the rebellion in the breakaway republic of Chechnya in talks here this week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said late Wednesday.

"We will be encouraging them ... to seek a political solution, to move aggressively toward a political solution and not to think that it can be solved militarily," Powell said ahead of talks Thursday with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov.

That meeting will set the stage for talks Sunday between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a meeting of leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Powell said that Washington recognized that Moscow had to deal with terrorist acts and threats emanating from Chechen separatists but stressed that it should do so without branding all Chechens "terrorists."

"We are anxious to work with them and we recognize that they have to fight terrorist activities in Chechnya (but) they have to do it in a way that reflects solid consideration of human rights and past atrocities that we know took place," he told reporters aboard his plane en route to Shanghai.

"Not every Chechen who is in a resistance mode is necessarily a terrorist," Powell said.

"We have to make some distinctions and judgements and ultimately the only way it can be sorted out and brought to ground is with a political solution."

Russia had hoped that its unprecedented cooperation with the US-led war on terrorism, sparked by the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, might reduce US criticism of its military campaign in Chechnya.

Putin insists on drawing a parallel between the terrorist threat being fought by the Western powers and that which he says Russia is fighting in Chechnya.

Bush gave a nod to Moscow last month when he said he believed members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, the group blamed for the September 11 attacks, were in Chechnya and that they should be brought to justice.

On October 2, Moscow said four of the 19 hijackers named as responsible for the terror attacks in the US had fought for the separatist rebels in Chechnya.

Radical Chechen separatists have denied they are in contact with bin Laden, but have acknowledged having "diplomatic" links with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.

Earlier this week, US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice urged Chechen separatists to distance themselves from "terrorist elements."

"We know that there are terrorist elements in and around Chechnya," Rice said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia that appeared on Monday.

"We call on the Chechen leaders to distance themselves from the terrorists which could be in their ranks," Rice told the Izvestia daily.

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