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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 00:16 GMT

World: Europe

Diplomats barred from Chechnya

Russian technicians prepare a Su-24 bomber at a North Ossetia base

Officials from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have cut short their mission in the northern Caucasus after failing to secure permission from the Russian authorities to enter Chechnya.

Battle for the Caucasus
The OSCE delegation had hoped to enter Chechnya for a brief period on Thursday, but Moscow has refused on the basis that the OSCE team had come on a humanitarian mission.

Earlier, the investigating team were mobbed by Chechen refugees as they visited two camps in neighbouring Ingushetia.

The BBC's Alix Kroeger reports: "Russia has blocked the delegation from visiting Chechnya itself"
The delegation led by Ambassador Kim Traavik - representative of the Norwegian foreign minister and current OSCE President Knut Vollebaek - was visiting the border camp where thousands of Chechen women and children are huddled in freezing temperatures.

The BBC's correspondent in Ingushetia, Orla Guerin, says Moscow's unwillingness to allow the OSCE team across the border for even a short period comes as no surprise.

Orla Guerin: The mission has failed in a key respect by not getting into Chechnya
The Kremlin is reluctant to have international observers or foreign journalists see what is happening in Chechnya and even if the team had been allowed into the republic.

[ image:  ]
Ambassador Traavik said Moscow maintained his mission had only a humanitarian role, but he said it was for that very reason that they wanted to cross the border to see the situation for themselves.

The ambassador also contradicted earlier reports that he had said Chechnya was no longer Moscow's internal affair.

Mr Traavik told reporters he would fly to Moscow on Thursday to discuss the situation in Chechnya with Russian Foreign Ministry officials and Ingush President Ruslan Aushev.

Pleas for help

[ image: Refugees are still trying to escape in freezing temperatures]
Refugees are still trying to escape in freezing temperatures
Almost as soon as the investigators arrived at the refugee camps, they were surrounded by angry men and women who demanded to know why the international community was not doing more to stop the bloodshed in Chechnya.

"They are killing us, we are cold, help us," the refugees cried. As they mobbed the investigators, Russian artillery fire could be heard from inside Chechnya.

Click here to see a map of the region

Eight-thousand refugees live in the Sleptsovsk camp, which is covered in deep snow with temperatures well below freezing. Cases of tuberculosis have been reported and food is short.

Mr Traavik said: "There are serious humanitarian problems here."

But Fredrik Arthur, a senior Norwegian official, said: "These are not the worst camps I have ever seen."

MSF spokesperson Frances Stevenson: "The risk of going in is far too high"
During the 1994 -96 conflict, the OSCE was the only mediator between Moscow and the breakaway republic.

A spokesperson for the humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC that its workers would not go into Chechnya.

"The risk is far too high," said Frances Stevenson. "We do not want our people to come back in body bags."

All out war threat

Russia is showing no sign of ending its campaign. The commander of the Russian forces in the region, General Viktor Kazantsev, told the daily newspaper Trud that, if ordered to, he would flatten Chechnya with bombs in a week.

But he said the military campaign could drag on for years.

"Let's say the president tells me: 'Kazantsev, I introduce martial law in Chechnya.' Then I will finish the war in a week.

"I will flatten the whole place with bombs," he said.

"They would all come running to me with white flags. That is - those still alive.... But that would be a war. What I am conducting is a counter-terrorist operation," he told the paper.

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