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Russia Faulted for Excesses in Chechnya : Europe: Panel finds use of force ‘disproportionate and indiscriminate,’ calls for talks and free vote.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A European fact-finding mission to Chechnya concluded Monday that Russia is using “disproportionate and indiscriminate” military might against the tiny secessionist republic. It called for talks among all forces to arrange a cease-fire and free elections.

The main findings by the team from the 53-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--the first such international mission of the 7-week-old war--are sharply at odds with Moscow’s version of reality and its policies in the breakaway Muslim republic.

But the head of the five-member team, Istvan Gyarmati of Hungary, said he hopes his report will lead to cooperation between Moscow and the organization in carrying out the study’s proposals. He said both sides in Chechnya had already agreed to one thing: to let the International Committee of the Red Cross visit their prisoners.

Europe has taken the lead in criticizing Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s campaign to crush Chechnya’s 3-year-old independence bid. Last month, the European Union protested the war by delaying Russia’s entry into a major agreement on political and economic partnership.

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On Monday, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, heard an appeal from Sergei A. Kovalev, a leading Russian critic of the war, to delay Moscow’s application to join that body until its armed forces cease hostilities in Chechnya.

Gyarmati’s fact-finding report, delivered at a Moscow news conference, could reinforce the chilly attitude in Europe toward what had been a budding post-Cold War alliance. But the report’s tone and content were mild compared with Kovalev’s criticisms and appeared to be aimed at encouraging Moscow to work with future missions.

“On the one hand, all of us recognize the territorial integrity of Russia,” Gyarmati said. “On the other hand, we think that the use of the armed forces on such a scale, and the employment of such methods, goes beyond our principles. But I believe that this (finding) has yet to be scrutinized by the Russian authorities.”

His report specifically condemned Russian bombing raids on populated areas of Chechnya, which have killed untold thousands of people. But he said he found no evidence to support assertions by Kovalev, other Russian human rights activists and witnesses that Russian forces are torturing and summarily executing Chechen prisoners.

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The Russian government had agreed to allow Kovalev, Yeltsin’s estranged human rights commissioner, to serve as the European mission’s official guide during its three-day visit. The 64-year-old gulag veteran had spent more than a month in Chechnya trying to stop the conflict.

But the Russian army refused to let him board the military aircraft that took the mission from Moscow on Friday.

Gyarmati said his team visited a detention center where about 50 Chechens were being held in two railway cars at Russia’s regional military headquarters in North Ossetian town of Mozdok. He said they saw detainees “with traces of beatings” but could not confirm Kovalev’s charges of torture and executions there.

The team met Saturday with Chechen opposition leaders and rode in Russian armored personnel carriers Sunday to Grozny, Chechnya’s war-shattered capital.

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Gyarmati said he “heard information” in Chechnya that ethnic Russians had suffered discrimination by President Dzhokar M. Dudayev’s government before the war but was also told that Chechens and Russians were helping each other cope with the combat.

He insisted that all forces in Chechnya--including Dudayev’s government, which Moscow has refused to deal with--be involved in setting up the elections scheduled for this year. He said free elections in late 1995 would be “extremely difficult” but “possible.”

“Only a legitimate Parliament and independent representatives of the Chechen people can conduct talks with the Russian authorities on what autonomy will be worked out for the Chechen Republic within the Russian Federation,” Gyarmati said.

As a first step, the mission called for a “humanitarian truce,” to be mediated by the Red Cross, to get relief to the estimated 150,000 people in Grozny who have been living for a month in cellars.

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“We saw an enormous amount of devastation,” said Audrey Glover, a British diplomat on the team. “It was like pictures I’ve seen of the bombing of Dresden (Germany)” in World War II.

It is unclear whether Russia is interested in a truce. As the team outlined its proposals, Russian forces were shelling Grozny’s center and its southern suburbs while moving more troops and armor for what Itar-Tass, a Russian news agency, called a “final storming” of the rebel capital.

But Gyarmati said his team concluded that “the military situation . . . is very unstable” and that the Russians are far from establishing control of Chechnya.


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