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UK reporter barred from Russia on security grounds

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, July 3 (Reuters) Russia has refused a visa to a British journalist well-known for his coverage of Chechnya and the turbulent Caucasus, citing the needs of ''state security''.

Thomas de Waal, who has previously worked in Moscow for the English-language Moscow Times, the BBC and the Times, said today he had been due to attend the presentation of a Russian version of his book on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the Federal Migration Service refused him a visa.

The service was not available for comment today but in its letter refusing the application, which was obtained by Reuters, it cited a 1996 law that says a visa can be refused ''in the aims of securing state security''.

De Waal said he had cooperated with Russian officials in the past on Nagorno-Karabakh, a South Caucasus region officially part of Azerbaijan but ruled by Armenians, and did not believe they would bar him for his views on the conflict.

''This clearly has to be because of the other main thing that I write about, which is Chechnya,'' de Waal, 39, told Reuters by telephone from London.

Russian officials have been very sensitive about Western criticism of the war in Chechnya, where they have struggled to crush separatism for more than a decade, and local journalists have been prosecuted for sympathising with the rebels.

President Vladimir Putin in 2002 said a foreign journalist critical of Russia's policy in the region become a Muslim and be circumcised ''in such a way that nothing grows back''.

Russia barred US channel ABC news from Russia after it ran an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev.

Press freedom groups say Russia tries to intimidate journalists into only reporting the Kremlin view on Chechnya. A Russian journalist in February was convicted of provoking racial hatred after he printed articles by rebel leaders.

De Waal is best known in Russia for appearing as an expert witness for the defence at the extradition trial of rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev in London. He said this could be behind his failure to get a visa.

The British court in 2003 declined to extradite Zakayev, giving him political asylum instead a move that infuriated Moscow, which calls Zakayev a terrorist.

''It is possible that the wheels turn rather slowly, or that this is a cumulative account of things I have done over the last 10 years,'' de Waal said. He last visited Russia in January 2005.


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