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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
EU unfreezes Russian aid
Moscow was accused of abuses in Chechnya
The European Union has unblocked an aid package for Russia which was frozen in December at the height of Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya.

The decision to release the aid - worth 58 million euros ($55m) - signalled the EU foreign ministers' readiness to build ties with the new Russian Government headed by President Vladimir Putin.

But in a sign of continuing EU concern about human rights in Chechnya, the aid will be refocused on support for strengthening Russian democracy, institutional reforms and support for the independent media.

The EU froze the aid package in protest at what it said was Moscow's use of indiscriminate force against civilians in Chechnya.

Vladimir Putin
The EU wants to build up relations with Mr Putin

The EU ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday, called on Mr Putin to make good on his government's commitment to economic reforms.

The aid is part of the EU's TACIS programme of support for former Soviet republics, which has channelled some 4.2 billion euros ($4 bn) to the region since its launch in 1991.

Human rights concerns

The EU ministers again called on Russia to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict and allow independent inquiries into allegations of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

"The European Union remains concerned by the situation in Chechnya and will continue to bring up the issue in its dialogue with Russia," they said in a statement.

The EU funds are expected to support various programmes including:

  • Helping Russian citizens defend their civil rights
  • Promotion of inter-ethnic tolerance and protecting minority rights
  • Training journalists to work in the independent media

Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has said it will boost its support for Russia as much as possible this year.

The EBRD's new president, Jean Lemierre, said the bank had decided "this year to increase its commitments in Russia," which was going through a "very crucial" period.

Sanctions on Yugoslavia

The EU has also agreed to review the sanctions against Yugoslavia.

Several EU foreign ministers said there was no point in impoverishing Serbia while President Slobodan Milosevic only seemed to be getting stronger and the Serbian opposition was chronically divided.

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