Dispute on Chechnya delays signing of OSCE charter

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The Independent Online

Differences with Russia over Chechnya and the Caucasus have led to delays in agreeing on a new OSCE charter, outlining the 54-nation's goals and aims going into the next century, Western diplomats said Thursday.

Differences with Russia over Chechnya and the Caucasus have led to delays in agreeing on a new OSCE charter, outlining the 54-nation's goals and aims going into the next century, Western diplomats said Thursday.

The problems were revealed shortly after the conference opened, after Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, the OSCE chairman,announced the charter would be sent back to negotiators. The Western diplomats said agreement on new language would likely be reached, but only after a delay.

Beyond the Russian military campaign in Chechnya, language on minorities in the Caucasus also needed revision, said the diplomats, without elaborating.

The OSCE, which counts the United States, Russia, Canada and most European nations among its members, works on enforcing human rights, arms reduction, and conflict resolution in Europe. With Russia's violent military campaign in Chechnya the dominating theme at the two-day summit, several documents dealing with the main OSCE themes could be delayed, including a final summit declaration - which must be agreed on by all leaders.

Yeltsin on Wednesday threatened to withhold his signature from that declaration if it criticized the Chechnya campaign. In his speech to the summit, he bluntly told participants that Russia's Chechnya campaign was his country's internal affair and thus was not subject to discussion at the summit.

In the five months since US President Bill Clinton last met Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Russian objections to NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia have been replaced by increasingly strong American protests over Russia's military offensive in the breakaway region of Chechnya.

Chechnya topped the agenda for Clinton's meeting Thursday with Yeltsin. Meeting on the sides of a 55-country summit on European security, the two leaders were also expected to discuss various arms control issues.

"Our concern is that the means being used are causing inordinate harm to civilians" in Chechnya, U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said Wednesday.

Yeltsin was defiant at the summit.

"You have no right to criticize Russia for Chechnya," he said in an address to the 54-nation summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Yeltsin said the use of military force in Chechnya was necessary to defeat terrorists and "bandits" who had slaughtered innocent civilians.

"There will be no negotiations with bandits and murderers," Yeltsin said, adding that Russian "cannot accept" that its policy on Chechnya should be influenced by other countries.

Earlier, Yeltsin said criticism of Russia could risk failure of the summit, which is intended to strengthen the role of the OSCE - a Cold War-era organization - in preventing conflict and promoting human rights in Europe.

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