Lib Dems condemn 'shameful silence' on Chechnya

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The Independent Online

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, today called for the international community to take new action against Russia to stop the growing humanitarian crisis in Chechnya.

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, today called for the international community to take new action against Russia to stop the growing humanitarian crisis in Chechnya.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said all parties, including the Liberal Democrats, had been "shamefully silent" over Chechnya.

He said: "The fact of the matter is that we have stood by while 350,000 people have been displaced and the Russian military have followed a policy of targeting civilians rather than the terrorists they are intending to seek out."

Mr Campbell said the West should have been doing more to stop the Russians inflicting civilian casualties, and should look at its £5 billion loan to Russia from the International Monetary Fund.

He said: "The provision of funds of that kind must depend on the way Russia treats an issue like Chechnya.

"We can't offer a blank political cheque and then stand by while action is being taken which is clearly unreasonable."

The intervention came after Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped into the growing diplomatic crisis over Chechnya by telling the Russians of Britain's "concern" at the level of civilian casualties and at the plight of refugees leaving the region.

Mr Blair wrote to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin saying that while he "understood their fears and the threat of terror", a lasting solution could only be achieved through the political process, according to his official spokesman.

Mr Blair also called on Russia to give free access to humanitarian relief organisations and United Nations refugee agency teams.

The Prime Minister has also held talks with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook over the crisis, which has seen Russian forces advance on the Chechen capital Grozny and sparked claims of a growing humanitarian disaster.

The Prime Minister's letter came as refugees were able to move in large numbers across Chechnya's main border for the first time in nearly two weeks.

At the same time Russian forces, six weeks into their advance in the separatist region on its southern fringes, advanced through villages west of Grozny.

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