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ICRC ends Chechen prisoner visits in Moscow dispute

Written by: Staff

GENEVA, May 5 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has ended a monitoring programme for detainees from the Chechen conflict due to a dispute with Russia over the conditions of the visits, a top official said today.

Marco Altherr, who leads the ICRC's delegation in Russia, said the humanitarian organisation decided to formally cancel the visitation programme because 18 months of talks with Moscow over its access to hundreds of detainees had proved futile.

The ICRC first suspended its programme in September 2004 because of concerns that Russian authorities were attempting to regulate which detainees could be seen.

''The major problem we faced was a question of access, both to places of detention and to all the detainees,'' Altherr told Reuters in a telephone interview.

''After these 18 months (of talks), the positions of the two sides were not compatible and we reached the decision to cancel, to halt, this detention programme and not to continue to negotiate on it,'' he said.

The Swiss-based ICRC is mandated to monitor whether prison conditions and treatment of detainees comply with the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which lay down rules on the treatment of those captured in armed conflicts.

Founded on the principle of neutrality and confidentiality, the ICRC requires full access to all detainees at all sites as well as the right to make repeated visits.

Altherr said the ICRC could not accept limitations imposed by Russian authorities, who wanted detainee visits explicitly authorised by prosecutors.

With the programme officially ending, he said he was concerned some abuses could go unchecked in the breakaway region, where rebel attacks remain daily events despite Russia saying the war is over.

''It will be difficult for us to monitor the disappearances that are still occurring in Chechnya. It is creating a difficult situation for us,'' he said.

Reuters SI RS2306

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