Written Answers. - Crisis in Chechnya.

Thursday, 23 February 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 449 No. 6

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  21.  Mr. R. Burke  Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   the discussions, if any, he has had with the Russian authorities in relation to Chechnya since Tuesday, 24 January 1995. [4094/95]

  53.  Mr. Callely  Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   if he will report on the crisis in Chechnya; the action, if any, he intends to take to prevent more killing and suffering; and if he will make a statement on the matter.[4242/95]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 53 together.

The situation in Chechnya remains of grave concern. Figures announced this week suggest that as many as 30,000 people may have been killed since the conflict erupted in December.

Following a lull in the last few weeks fighting has begun to intensify again around Grozny and in the surrounding towns. Russian artillery and aerial attacks on these areas have recommenced.

A ceasefire between the two sides, agreed at the beginning of last week, expired on Sunday night and was not extended. The ceasefire had provided for the non-use of heavy weapons, which have been responsible for most of the destruction and loss of life. While there were reported violations by both sides, the ceasefire, although fragile, had reduced the fighting and provided a window of opportunity to pursue negotiations for a solution. The non-extension of the ceasefire is a serious setback in this regard.

However, efforts to involve the OSCE constructively in the resolution of the crisis are continuing. Following [1592] his visit to the region at the end of January arrangements are now being made for a second visit by Ambassador Gyarmati, the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office.

A team of OSCE Human Rights experts has now arrived in Moscow on the first stage of a ten day mission, six days of which will be spent in Chechnya. This mission has as its mandate

—to help facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid

—to examine the possibilities for OSCE assistance in the setting up and operation of a human rights body to investigate violations of human rights and ensure their observance in the future.

—to discuss co-operation in setting up a local administration in Chechnya and

—to discuss the preparation of free elections.

However, the commitments being given by Russia within the OSCE must be translated into action on the ground. The international community demands this.

From the outset, Ireland has been working both bilaterally and together with our EU partners to make it unequivocally clear to Russia that its handling of the Chechnya crisis and the consequent violation of human rights are unacceptable; to promote a ceasefire and a negotiated solution through the involvement of OSCE; and to bring about the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid.

The Government responded quickly to the needs of the victims of the war and we are willing to extend further humanitarian assistance. Ireland has provided grants totalling £150,000 to the ICRC which is delivering humanitarian assistance in Chechnya and visiting prisoners on boths sides. Also 10.31 million ECU has been contributed by the EU to the ICRC since late December for the [1593] supply and distribution of food, basic medical supplies, shelter and clothing.

In addition to the 250,000 people who are being assisted by the ICRC a further 175,000 persons have fled to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan where they are being helped by the UNHCR. I have decided to allocate £75,000 from the Humanitarian Assistance Fund to the UNHCR to help with these refugees. Next week I will be meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva to discuss with her any other way in which Ireland can be of assistance in the humanitarian crisis.

Since 24 January, my Department, at my direction, has strongly underlined our concerns on the situation in Chechnya to the Russian Ambassador in Dublin.In addition, our representative to the OSCE has made our views clear in the OSCE Permanent Council and directly to the Russian OSCE Head of Delegation.

At EU level there have been Troika and joint EU/OSCE démarches to the Russian authorities. In a Declaration on 6 February EU Foreign Ministers sent a clear message to Russia that

— we wished to see a humanitarian ceasefire concluded immediately with the assistance of the ICRC

— we expected Russia to uphold the provisions of the OSCE Code of Conduct and of Additional Protocol no 2 to the 1949 Geneva Convention

— we wished to see Russia take the required steps to guarantee free movement of aid to populations in need and

— we wanted to see a local office of the UN High Commissioner opened in the region.

Since that Declaration the President of the EU Council of Ministers, French Foreign Minister Juppé, has had a number of direct contacts with Foreign Minister Kozyrev.

It is essential that we maintain our efforts, both bilaterally and through the relevant international fora, to bring an [1594] end to the fighting, promote a negotiated solution and address the serious human rights situation in Chechnya. In this regard, I intend to raise the issue of Chechnya at the UN Commission on Human Rights during my visit to that organisation on Monday next.

It is of the utmost importance both for the people of Chechnya and for the stability of the region as a whole that this crisis is brought to an end at the earliest possible date. Ireland will continue to work as constructively as possible, both bilaterally and with our EU partners, to achieve this aim.

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