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NZ conveys concern at Chechen conflict

Outgoing Foreign Minister Don McKinnon today expressed serious concern at the recent Russian ultimatum that civilians should leave Chechnya’s capital Grozny by Saturday or face the consequences of heavy bombardment.

Mr McKinnon said Russia’s latest ultimatum had served only to heighten New Zealand’s concern about the humanitarian situation in the on-going conflict in Chechnya.

“There are upwards of 30,000 civilians still living in Grozny and with winter setting in, we fear many will be forced to join the 220,000 refugees this conflict has already created,” Mr McKinnon said.

“While we welcome last night's softening of Russia's ultimatum, civilians are still extremely at risk and we are very concerned for their safety."

Mr McKinnon said concerns about the humanitarian situation in Chechnya have been raised with the Russian Embassy in Wellington and conveyed at senior level by the New Zealand Ambassador in Moscow.

He said New Zealand had expressed hope that aid organisations such as UNHCR would be given access to refugees in Chechnya, and that a planned fact-finding tour to the region in mid-December by Knut Vollebaek, head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, would still take place.

The latest conflict in Chechnya began in September when Russian troops took military action in the breakaway republic after terrorist bombs were detonated in several Russian cities, killing 300 civilians.


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