Written Answers. - Chechen Conflict.

Mary Wallace

Question:

14 Miss M. Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the action, if any, he has taken at EU or UN level to bring about peace in Chechnya. [8276/96]

The situation in Chechnya continues to be a matter of grave concern. It has been our consistently held view that the Chechen conflict cannot be solved by military means, and our efforts continue to be directed towards the promotion of a negotiated solution. The Government has been working to this end with EU partners and through the mechanisms of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Early in 1995 agreement was reached to establish an OSCE assistance mission in the capital, Grozny, with a mandate to promote respect for human rights and to support the creation of mechanisms guaranteeing the rule of law; to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and assist in the return of refugees; and to promote a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The assistance mission played an important role in mediating between the parties and further progress was made in July last with the negotiation of a ceasefire and a range of military agreements.

In the autumn, however, the ceasefire agreement broke down and fighting resumed. Since then, we have seen an escalation of the violence, including hostage taking by Chechen rebels in neighbouring Dagestan, the hijacking of a passenger vessel in the Black Sea, a large scale attack by separatists on Grozny and increasingly heavy Russian military actions in the region.

The publication by President Yeltsin of a peace plan for Chechnya on 31 March, with provision for a ceasefire, a phased withdrawal of troops and mediated negotiations, could represent a basis for talks between the parties. However, fighting continues in the region and following the ambush and killing of approximately 100 Russian troops by Chechen rebels on Friday last, troop withdrawals, begun under the peace plan, have been suspended. There have been widespread reports of human rights abuses and numerous civilian casualties. Ireland, together with our EU partners, has made known to the Russian authorities our deep concerns about these developments. At UN level, Ireland has consistently supported international action at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and in the Third Committee in New York aimed at the protection of human rights in the Chechnya region. We have also consistently pressed, together with our EU partners, for meaningful commitments to and respect for fundamental human rights. This action is continuing at the current session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
The renewed fighting in Chechnya has exacerbated an already critical humanitarian situation there. Despite the extremely difficult working conditions, including attacks on offices and personnel, a limited number of humanitarian agencies have remained operational in the area. These agencies face considerable difficulties in gaining access to the war affected zones and Ireland has been active with EU partners in pressing the Russian authorities to facilitate access on the ground for humanitarian organisations.
The European Union plans to disburse 8 million ECU to the ICRC, World Food Programme and to a small number of NGOs to assist refugees and internally displaced persons in Chechnya and in the neighbouring republics. The Government has to date disbursed £285,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross and to humanitarian NGOs for victims of the conflict in Chechnya. We are monitoring the humanitarian situation closely and will shortly announce a further allocation for humanitarian agencies in the region.
The situation in Chechnya is complex and there is no easy solution. Clearly, however, the immediate requirement to enable progress to be made towards a peaceful settlement remains the establishment of a lasting ceasefire. We will work to promote this as an urgent priority and we will spare no effort to put an end to the appalling loss of civilian lives and the worsening human rights situation in the region.