Written Answers. - Chechen Conflict.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

30 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, the Government is taking to help secure an end to the violence in Chechnya; the representations, if any, he has made to the Russian Government regarding the activities of its forces in that region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25502/99]

John Bruton

Question:

54 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the protest, if any, he has made regarding Russian attacks on a column of Chechen refugees, one of which resulted in 25 deaths and 70 wounded; if the fact that half the Chechen population have had to flee their homes constitutes ethnic cleansing of the kind which occurred in Kosovo and justified the NATO led war against Yugoslavia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22495/99]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

60 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, he has taken to encourage a peaceful solution to the conflict in Chechnya. [25475/99]

John Gormley

Question:

82 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will support some form of economic sanctions against the Russian Federation due to the continued offensive in Chechnya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25749/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 30, 54, 60 and 82 together.

The Government is seriously concerned at the continuing loss of civilian life in Chechnya and the plight of the refugees fleeing from the conflict zone. Russia has been bombing alleged rebel bases in Chechnya since 5 September, has occupied up to half of Chechnya, and has almost encircled the Chechen capital, Grozny. An estimated 350,000 Chechens have been displaced, some 233,000 of whom are now in the neighbouring Russian republic of Ingushetia

Ireland's concerns have been made clear to the Russian authorities on numerous occasions, most recently by the Taoiseach in his meeting with President Yeltsin in the margins of the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18 November. In his address to the summit, the Taoiseach called for an immediate halt to the military campaign. The Government welcomed Russia's agreement at the Istanbul Summit that a political solution is essential and that the assistance of the OSCE would contribute to achieving that goal. The Government also welcomed Russia's agreement to a visit by the chairman-in-office of the OSCE, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, to the region. We are, however, concerned that it did not prove possible to agree dates for a visit to Chechnya when Foreign Minister Vollebaek went to Moscow on Monday, 29 November, to discuss his Caucasus trip with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov. We are also concerned at Russia's reported rejection of OSCE mediation aimed at resolving the Chechnya conflict, despite its apparent openness in Istanbul to an OSCE role.
On 15 November at the last meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, my colleagues and I condemned all disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in Chechnya. We called for dialogue between Russia and the elected leaders of the North Caucasus, including Chechnya, and reminded all parties to the conflict of the necessity to observe international humanitarian law. We stated that we were holding the Russian Government to its word that it was not seeking a military solution in Chechnya, which would turn out to be a major political mistake.
There have been several reports of Russian attacks on refugee convoys. Ireland and its European Union partners have made clear to the Russian authorities on several occasions, and at the highest level, their view that attacks on civilians and refugees are totally unacceptable. As regards comparisons with the "ethnic cleansing" perpetrated in Kosovo, Russia has claimed that the purpose of its action in Chechnya is not to drive Chechens out of Chechnya, but to prevent any further incursions by Chechen guerillas into other parts of Russia and they state that it is for this reason they closed the border with Ingushetia temporarily some weeks ago, preventing Chechens from leaving the area. More recently, Russia has been resettling Chechens in the area north of the Terek river controlled by it.
The Government's concerns regarding reports of attacks on civilians have been made known directly to the Russian authorities, and we will continue to press our view, both directly and through EU contacts, that there can be no military solution to the Chechnya conflict. The question of economic sanctions against the Russian Federation is one which requires very careful consideration. The Government is not convinced at this stage that economic sanctions against Russia would be effective in relation to the objectives of the international community concerning Chechnya. We believe that our efforts should rather be directed towards helping Russia see that only a political solution, arrived at by dialogue, has a long-term prospect of bringing lasting peace to the region.
Ireland assumed the chairmanship of the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe at the council's ministerial session in Strasbourg on 4 November. I believe that the council must be able to respond to challenges such as those presenting themselves in the Caucasus including Chechnya. There are a number of possible areas where the expertise provided by the Council of Europe, could contribute to a long-term political settlement to the problems in Chechnya. In particular these concern the areas of democratisation, the rule of law and protection of human rights. A first step would be for the council to assess the situation from the humanitarian and human rights point of view. The present visit by the new Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, to the Northern Caucasus offers an opportunity for both dialogue and proposals for possible follow-up action.
The council has made known to the Russian authorities its readiness to provide support for a peaceful, political settlement in Chechnya. I have made very clear, as chairman of the committee of Ministers, that I will do everything possible to assist in this, including the possibility of a visit to the region. All that is required is the consent and request of the Russian authorities.