Moscow to join rights grouping

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The Independent Online
TONY BARBER

Europe Editor

The Council of Europe, one of the most important institutions linking Western and Eastern Europe, is expected to admit Russia today despite reservations about President Boris Yeltsin's Chechnya crackdown. Although some members of the council's parliamentary assembly are critical of Russia's human-rights record there, most take the view that there is a better chance of encouraging change if Russia becomes the council's 39th member-state.

The Strasbourg-based body was established in 1949 to promote human rights and democracy. Originally exclusively West European, it expanded after Communism fell to include East European states, for which membership serves as a seal of approval for their new democratic systems.

The council's secretary-general, Daniel Tarschys, of Sweden, said the council would not hesitate to take Russia to task if its performance failed to come up to scratch. He said the council could suspend member-states, a fate that befell Greece during the 1967-74 dictatorship and Turkey after the 1980 military coup.

The council has been eager to embrace new members from Eastern Europe but has tried not to water down standards. Thus the rump Yugoslav state, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, had its "special guest" status withdrawn in June 1992 because of its role in fomenting the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

Last year Russia's application was frozen over the Chechnya intervention, which has killed 20,000 civilians. The council assembly lifted the freeze after it appeared truce talks were making progress but violence has recently been rising again.

On Tuesday Mr Yeltsin said rejection would be interpreted as support for "Chechen terrorists". But Sergei Kovalyov, one of Russia's most respected human-rights campaigners, said the council should attach tough conditions on Chechnya in return for admitting Russia.

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