Beliefnet
United Press International

MOSCOW, April 3 (UPI) - A top U.N. official returned to Moscow Monday to raise her concerns with senior Russian officials after a weekend trip to Chechnya.

The official, Mary Robinson, who is the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told reporters she had seen and heard enough during her trip to the North Caucasus to back serious allegations of human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya.

On arriving in Moscow, Robinson said she was "devastated by the situation in Grozny itself and the poor circumstances of those living in Grozny." "I'm concerned about the extent of first-hand accounts of serious allegations of violations of human rights," Robinson said.

Robinson was prevented from visiting all the cites she had intended to, as access was denied to some villages and detention centers.

The U.N. commissioner said she intended to raise allegations of human rights violations during meetings with senior Russian officials, noting that she hoped to meet President-elect Vladimir Putin.

But the Kremlin indicated the meeting would not take place. Official spokesman on Chechen affairs Sergei Yastrzhembsky said he would not meet Robinson as her plane from Chechnya was late and her schedule did not fit with his. Yastrzhembsky said, "Mary Robinson saw everything she wanted to see in Chechnya."

It was made clear that Putin would not be able to find time to meet Robinson. Robinson did manage to meet with Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. A terse statement released by the official Itar-Tass news agency said Rushailo answered Robinson's questions regarding allegations of human rights violations, without elaborating further on the meeting.

According to Robinson's spokesman, Jose Diaz, the commissioner had asked to visit several specific cites, but permission was not granted "leading to some disappointment and frustration."

Russia's special human rights envoy in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, defended Robinson's curtailed Chechen visit, noting that everything had been done to provide her access, but that bad weather prevented visits to some areas.

According to Robinson's aides, she had hoped to visit the Chechen villages of Alkhan-Kala, Alkhan-Yurt and Katyr-Yurt, where there have been allegations of murders of civilians, and a filtration center for Chechens set up near Urus-Martan.

Aides said Robinson had hoped to visit these places to make a firsthand, balanced assessment of the violation reports.

Robinson will fly to Strasbourg from Moscow, where she may address the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly on April 5 with a report on her findings. The assembly plans to consider suspending Russia's membership over abuses in Chechnya.

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