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#11 - JRL 7229
Blair to raise Chechnya human rights with Putin
By Andrew Cawthorne

LONDON, June 18 (Reuters) - British leader Tony Blair vowed on Wednesday to raise Chechnya with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next week amid concern over alleged rights abuses by Moscow's troops fighting separatists in the region.

But Blair stressed that during Putin's four-day visit to Britain he would also express sympathy for Russian victims of violence by Chechen separatists. The case of London-based Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev is also sure to feature.

"I hope we can agree both on the need for human rights but also on the need for a complete end to any form of terrorism emanating from Chechnya," Blair told parliament.

Russia accuses Zakayev of murder, torture and masterminding terror attacks, and wants him extradited. But Zakayev's lawyers are arguing in a London court that he risks torture and possible death if sent to stand trial in Moscow.

Chechen fighters have staged a series of attacks on Russian targets, including a three-day Moscow siege last October in which some 50 rebels held 750 theatre-goers hostage.

Human rights groups have criticised Blair and other leaders for seeking to keep Putin sweet by turning a blind eye to abuses in Chechnya, where Russia has fought separatists for a decade.

"I always raise Chechnya with President Putin, but I do so in a way that also recognises this point, that as a result of terrorism coming out from extremists based in Chechnya, the Russian people have also suffered a great deal," Blair said.

"And it's worth just pointing out that when we finally won the conflict in Iraq, some of those people that were still offering resistance were in fact from Chechnya, extremists who were based there," he added.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International said it was "relieved" Blair would raise Chechnya with Putin.

"We want him to bring up human rights violations in Chechnya as part of a concerted effort to get it on the international agenda where it clearly isn't at the moment," Amnesty spokesman Neil Durkin said. "There's been too much violence."

Blair congratulated Putin for recent political moves he said were raising hopes of peace, including a referendum, an amnesty for Chechen rebels and Russian soldiers convicted of abuses, and plans for local assembly elections.

In Britain, Putin will attend a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, visit Scotland and discuss energy cooperation. Britain could import Russian fuel by the end of the decade and its largest oil companies have huge investments in Russia.

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