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BBC, Broadcast 6 June 2003

On the adoption by the Duma of Act Amnesty for Chechnya

The transcript was granted by the BBC service

The Russian parliament has passed an Act of Amnesty for Chechen rebels and federal troops engaged in a nine-year conflict in Chechnya. President Putin, who introduced the bill, is hoping it will improve chances of a political settlement of the conflict. But critics say the amnesty is severely limited in its scope. Only those Chechens who are not implicated in crimes such as murder, kidnap, or rape may be pardoned. But first they must surrender and wait for the outcome of an investigation of their past. Given the nature of the Chechen conflict questions are being asked if this amnesty will have any real impact on the Chechen settlement. From Moscow Nikolai Gorshkov reports.

(Sound clip of TV News):

Reporter: Another TV bulletin, another grim report about a suicide bombing in the Caucasus. This time it's not even in Chechnya, but in neighbouring North Ossetia. The referendum held in March on Chechen autonomy was meant to stop the bloodshed, but since then a hundred people have been killed in suicide bombings, many of them civilians. Now, the Kremlin is pinning its hopes on the amnesty. Alexander Machevsky, from President Putin's information office on Chechnya explains who may be able to take advantage of it:

"We have people who are fighting against federal forces and believe in independence for Chechnya, and those people who are simply taken by the force of religious beliefs and think that they are fighting for the great Islamic Caliphate: These two groups, those that didn't commit, for example, kidnapping, those people who weren't cutting heads off people, those who were not killing civilians, were not committing crimes against the civilian population and those who do not represent international terrorist organisations, those people have a chance".

Reporter: Critics say the amnesty's scope is severely limited, as it does not cover the most hardened fighters whose goodwill is essential if there is to be any reconciliation in Chechnya. Gumki Gudiev was elected to the pre-war Chechen parliament in 1997 when Chechnya was all but independent, with its own President Aslan Maskhadov, now one of the rebel leaders. Mr Gudiev wants reconciliation, but is sceptical of what the amnesty can achieve.

"We don't believe that an amnesty or any other isolated gesture could solve the Chechen conflict. We need a whole set of measures to address the problem. Above all, we need peace talks with those rebels who are ready and willing to talk. We believe that first of all talks should be held with the Chechen president Maskhadov. Then an amnesty will make sense. Otherwise, it will have very limited impact, if at all."

Reporter: Although the Russian parliament has approved the amnesty law overwhelmingly, there were deputies who did not take part in the vote at all, among them the liberal Yabloko faction of the Duma. I'm going to the Russian Parliament right now to ask one of its members, Sergei Mitrokhin, why he did not take part in the vote:

"The amnesty would be positive if it would mean to consolidate their success in negotiations or in other steps to stability but now a days we have no stability where amnesty is nonsence."

Reporter: Most Russian parliamentarians though are upbeat about the likely impact of the amnesty. However they admit it's just a step in the chain of measures to be taken. Pavel Krasheninnikov, the chairman of the Duma's legislative committee says the government must now make up for the lost opportunities of the past by negotiating the division of powers between Moscow and Chechnya.

"Unfortunately we didn't do it earlier, we could have done it before the outbreak of hostilities, then many of the present-day problems could have been avoided"

Reporter: Quite a confession from a Russian politician... Does it mean, though, that Moscow might soon be ready and talk to those Chechen leaders who were elected before the war, and then were forced into the mountains? The Kremlin rejects this possibility out of hand. Moreover the rebels' leader Aslan Maskhadov, who had previously had urged the Russian government to negotiate with him, has now said he will no longer seek talks with Moscow, sending the ball back into the Kremlin's court.


See also:

BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/default.stm

War in Chechnya

BBC, Broadcast 6 June 2003

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