#12 - JRL 7060
Putin Says Al-Qa'ida Sends Money, 'Instructors' to Chechnya
PARIS, Feb 11 (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday [11 February] al-Qa'ida is still sending money and instructors to the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, even though the network led by Usama Bin Ladin no longer has camps there.
"There is still al-Qa'ida money (in Chechnya), al-Qa'ida instructors, mercenaries from several Muslim countries who are recruited by fundamentalists," Putin told the TF1 television channel during his official visit to France.
"That all exists in Chechnya, and of course we are going to fight it in a ruthless manner and wipe out these people there," he said.
The Russian president also responded to criticism of Russia's treatment of the Chechen civilian population during its three and a half year fight against rebel insurgents in the republic.
"At the same time we are aware that in making us act like this, the terrorists are taking the civilian population hostage," said Putin.
French President Jacques Chirac had told Putin during an official dinner Monday that the conflict in Chechnya "cannot be solved through military means" as the civilian population in the republic was paying a heavy humanitarian price.
Putin said Tuesday that he understood the concerns of the country's Western partners on the issue.
"We have spoken about this a lot as part of our conversations in Paris," said Putin.
Russia describes as "terrorists" the separatists Moscow's armed forces have being been trying to quell since sweeping into the southern republic to put down an insurgency in 1999.
But Russia has come under heavy criticism at home and abroad for its handling of the crisis in Chechnya.
International organisations, including the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have accused Moscow of widespread human rights violations in the territory.