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#11 - JRL 7003
Los Angeles Times
January 3, 2003
Futile Move in Chechnya

Russia's expulsion of human rights monitors from Chechnya foreshadows another no-holds-barred military campaign to extinguish rebellion in the province.

Chechnya's history offers little hope of success for the Russians, no matter how cruel the fight. Brute force has so far brought retaliation, not peace.

A six-person delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) returned to Chechnya in 2001 to help deliver humanitarian aid and monitor human rights. Russia's foreign minister said this week that the aid was welcome, but not international scrutiny of soldiers' conduct.

That's an especially shortsighted statement because the OSCE, a regional security organization that specializes in conflict prevention, aid and monitoring of human rights, helped get peace talks moving between the rebels and Moscow during the 1994-96 war in Chechnya. Russia withdrew and the province gained de facto independence. Three years later, the deal fell apart. Chechen warlords created havoc in a series of kidnappings, bombings and other terrorist crimes.

Because of the danger, the 55-nation OSCE -- whose members include the United States and Russia as well as most nations in Europe and some in Central Asia -- closed up shop and ended its monitoring of human rights, attempts to stop the fighting and delivery of aid. And Russia sent soldiers back to battle guerrillas.

When the OSCE returned in 2001, its criticism of Russian troops' brutality toward civilians angered Moscow. But part of the organization's mandate is reporting on human rights violations. Washington and European nations should press Russia to keep the human rights watchdogs in Chechnya.

It is no surprise that Chechen terrorism has outraged Russians and increased support for a crackdown by President Vladimir V. Putin, who came to power promising to get tough with the guerrillas. The October seizure of a Moscow theater showed that the guerrillas were still powerful enough to strike in the Russian capital.

Last week, suicide bombers managed to get past supposedly heavy security and into the headquarters of the pro-Moscow government in the Chechen capital, Grozny, killing more than 80 people. No one, in Europe or elsewhere, can rightly condone such Chechen tactics.

Russian soldiers have responded nearly in kind, and the victims of their accused rapes, kidnappings and murders are overwhelmingly civilians.

A Russian military court this week acquitted an army colonel of murdering an 18-year-old woman in Chechnya nearly three years ago, finding the officer insane. That raised questions about either Russia's willingness to hold officers accountable or the mental stability of officers it sends to Chechnya.

Moscow sometimes hints it's willing to talk, then turns to force alone. It should make a steady offer of talks to Chechens who want peace. Provincial anger at Russian rule dates back centuries. One broken peace should not abort the effort to end the war. Using European help to get talks started would achieve more in the end than booting out human rights monitors.

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