EU holds back on treaty in war row EU holds back on treaty in protest

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The European Union has delayed final agreement of a new trade treaty with Russia because of worries about the situation in Chechnya.

"We are not proposing formal signing of this very important interim agreement," said Hans van den Broek, the EU's Foreign Affairs Commissioner. "We have sounded an unmistakable note of concern."

Speaking to the European Parliament yesterday, Mr Van Den Broek said there were worries in the European Commission about the way that Russia was crushing the rebellion. "We do have serious concerns, verging on indignation, at the way this political problem is being attacked by military means." An interim trade agreement, paving the way for a much broader co-operation deal, has been held up because of these concerns, Mr Van Den Broek said.

Western countries have tried to play down criticism of events in Chechnya until the last few days, fearing that any firmer stance could undermine much broader relations.

Germany said yesterday that Russia would brief diplomats from the OSCE on the conflict, but there is little hope the organisation will be able to achieve much without support from Russia. A meeting of the OSCE in Budapest last year ended in acrimony, partly because of Russian intransigence over Bosnia.

Breaking his silence on Russia's assault on Chechnya, Chancellor Helmut Kohl yesterday called on Boris Yeltsin to stop the bloodshed and welcomed the Russian President's order to stop bombing the breakaway region.

A statement issued by Mr Kohl's press office said the Chancellor had a detailed talk with Mr Yeltsin on Wednesday expressing Germany's "deep regret at the human suffering and the many people killed" in the Chechnya conflict.

"I am deeply concerned at the amount of violence," Mr Kohl said, repeating Germany's view that the application of military power far exceeded the issues at stake.