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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 11:36 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: West worries over Chechnya

Russia has been accused of human rights violations in Chechnya

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

Western criticism of Russia's military offensive in Chechnya has so far been relatively muted, despite reports that Russia is flouting humanitarian law and using a disproportionate amount of force.

Battle for the Caucasus
Television pictures of desperate refugees from Russian military action in Chechnya may have prompted some comparisons with the behaviour of Serbian forces in Kosovo.

But western politicians are not making those comparisons. Nor are they threatening sanctions against Moscow.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin confined himself to saying that Russia's current military tactics are "not in keeping" with the Geneva Convention and commitments established by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which prohibit deliberate attacks on civilian populations.

President Clinton has warned Russia that increasing civilian casualties would turn world opinion against it and make it harder to achieve a political solution.

[ image: The Council of Europe promotes democracy and human rights]
The Council of Europe promotes democracy and human rights
Nato Secretary-General George Robertson has talked of serious humanitarian concerns and asked whether the aim of combating terrorism really justified the methods being used.

The big powers accept that Chechnya remains a part of Russia, but territorial integrity did not prevent Nato intervention in Kosovo.

The difference is that Russia is too big a power for that kind of action to be considered, and the consequences too explosive.

Russia 'must not escape censure'

Amnesty International has said the muted response to the Chechen crisis is further evidence of a selective response to human rights violations. Russia's permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, it says, should not allow it to escape censure.

However, international opinion is beginning to stir.

The Council of Europe has called for dialogue between President Yeltsin and the rebels, and there are to be hearings in the United States Senate.

There is also growing concern that the Chechen conflict will undermine this month's summit in Istanbul of the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The summit was intended to set the seal on a revised version of the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe.

Russia's military deployments in the north Caucasus have however breached its permitted quota of armoured combat vehicles - even the higher limit set out in the new treaty.

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