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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 13:50 GMT

World: Europe

'Alarming conditions' in Chechnya

Refugees have to queue a long time for food in the camps

A European humanitarian investigator has urged Russia and the international community to do more to help Chechen refugees.

Battle for the Caucasus
"We've seen alarming humanitarian conditions," said Norwegian diplomat Kim Traavik after leading a mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to Chechnya's neighbouring republic, Ingushetia, where 200,000 refugees are living in freezing conditions.

The diplomats had to cut short their mission in the northern Caucasus after failing to secure permission from the Russian authorities to enter Chechnya.

Orla Guerin: "At last this woman of 70 is safe from the bombs and bullets"
The OSCE delegation had hoped to enter Chechnya for a brief period on Thursday, but Moscow refused on the basis that the OSCE team had come on a humanitarian mission.

Instead, the OSCE team went to Moscow for talks with the Russian government.

Click here to see a map of the region

After talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Gusarov, Ambassador Traavik said more needed to be done for the refugees, particularly with the onset of winter.

But he said the OSCE was well aware that this was an internal matter for the Russians in which no international role was foreseen.

The BBC's Peter Biles reports: "Russia insists the war in Chechnya is an internal affair"
Mr Traavik called on Moscow to allow a free flow of civilians across the border to Ingushetia, and said the OSCE was ready to help the Russians with any relief effort, or in brokering talks with the Chechens.

Mr Gusarov said everything possible was being done to help the refugees and there was no reason to talk about a humanitarian catastrophe.

'Co-operation with Russia'

[ image: People continue to flee towards Chechnya's borders]
People continue to flee towards Chechnya's borders
The ambassador said diseases such as tuberculosis and dysentery were all a threat to the refugees in the camps.

Mr Traavik said it was important to promote co-operation between Russian and Ingush authorities as well as between Russia, other nations and international humanitarian agencies to help refugees.

Russia is continuing its military offensive in Chechnya with the capital, Grozny, under heavy artillery and rocket attack. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Chechen officials say, thousands of civilians have been killed since the Russian campaign began two months ago.

In a press conference on Thursday, deputy Kremlin chief of staff Igor Shabdurasulov conceded that "there have been some tragic errors during our operation in Chechnya.

"We regret these errors and we carry the moral responsibility," said Mr Shabdurasulov, when asked about the bombing of a Red Cross refugee convoy last month.

"Unfortunately, the activity of international terrorists and fighters have forced the government to resort to force," he added.

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