Russia Today - Nato condemns Russia on Chechnya but acknowledges 'territorial integrity'

BRUSSELS, Dec 16, 1999 -- (AFP) NATO on Wednesday condemned Russia's military campaign in its breakaway republic of Chechnya, particularly "disproportionate and indiscriminate force" against civilians, while acknowledging Moscow's right to "preserve its territorial integrity."

In a statement issued after the first day of a two-day semi-annual NATO foreign ministers meeting here, the alliance expressed "deep concern about... continuing reports of civilian casualties and the plight of displaced persons.

"We condemn terrorism is all its manifestations but believe that Russia's pursuit of a purely military solution to the conflict in undermining its legitimate objectives," said the statement, which bore strong similarities to one issued on Chechnya by the European Union summit in Helsinki last weekend.

There was no mention of sanctions in the statement, which added: "The continuing disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population is incompatible with the commitments Russia has undertaken with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and its obligations as a member of the United Nation and the Council of Europe."

NATO urged Russia to "exercise the fullest restraint, to refrain from the use of force against civilians and protect their human rights, to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to those in need..."

It urged Moscow to "open all avenues for a political solution to the conflict" urged both Russian and Chechen authorities to "take meaningful steps toward a renewed dialogue."

Fighting meanwhile raged for the second day in the besieged Chechen capital Grozny as the rebel republic vowed to fight for its independence despite offering to strike a peace deal with Moscow.

Russian troops and Chechen guerrillas clashed in street battles in several outlying districts of the bomb-devastated city as federal gunners unleashed an artillery barrage on the capital, Chechen officials said.

"The situation is very difficult and the Chechen fighters are well prepared," one Russian officer told AFP near the capital, adding that several dozen soldiers had died in clashes around Grozny this week.

Several Russian armored vehicles were destroyed on Wednesday when they sought to advance towards Grozny, the Chechen sources said.

As visiting OSCE chief Knut Vollebaek tried to arrange three-way talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and a top Russian minister, the separatist Grozny leadership said it would never accept Russian rule.

"The status of Chechnya cannot be the subject of compromise," spokesman Said-Selim Abdulmuslimov cited Maskhadov as saying, speaking to AFP in Grozny. Interfax news agency earlier quoted Maskhadov as saying Chechnya was ready to offer "a broad compromise which would be acceptable to both sides and recognize the interests of Russia as a world power."

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