17. März 2005

The Associated Press

Andreas Gross: «We have to rally all reasonable people in the region behind us»

Jan Sliva - Associated Press

STRASBOURG, France (AP) Chechnya's Moscow-backed President Alu Alkhanov and its mainstream Muslim mufti Akhmat-Hadji Shamayev are to headline informal talks next week on Chechnya organized by Europe's top human rights watchdog, according to a provisional list obtained by The Associated Press.

More than 60 people are expected to take part in the round table at the Council of Europe on Monday, but the final list will only be released on the morning of the event as some of the Chechens invited are still hesitating about attending, said Agnieszka Nachilo of the organization's Parliamentary Assembly.

The round table is to bring together pro-Moscow Chechen politicians and public figures, Chechen and international experts and non-governmental organizations and also several people who were close to the late Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, said Andreas Gross of the organizing committee. Gross didn't reveal the names of the invitees close to Maskhadov, citing fears for their security.

"This round table aims to bring together for the very first time people who for the past 20 years have only been killing each other," Gross said in a telephone interview. Maskhadov was killed last week in a special operation in northern Chechnya, and Gross said he couldn't rule out that the timing of Maskhadov's death was connected with the talks.

"It's sad. We had signs that Maskhadov was to support the round table," Gross said. "Whoever killed Maskhadov now committed a grave political error." A precondition for all participants in the event was to "recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and not use terrorism as a method to achieve" goals, meaning all Chechen hard-liners were excluded.

"These talks are about starting negotiations that would bring a peaceful solution to the Chechen problem," Gross said. "The Chechen issue is the most complicated one in Europe and we have to rally all reasonable people in the region behind us."

Andreas Gross

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