Chechnya Is World's Concern
President of breakaway republic calls for UN observers, further talks
IN his recent address to the UN General Assembly, Pope John Paul II challenged the countries of the world to create a new universal moral code called the "Charter of Nations." Its purpose: to promote peace and human rights in a world plagued by ethnic conflicts. The pope challenged the United Nations to protect small nations and ethnic groups who, like our country, are struggling for freedom.
We, the people and government of Chechnya, heard his words. We hope world leaders who gathered last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UN heard them too. The horrors of Bosnia are also the horrors of Chechnya.
The pope's message makes us hopeful the world will hear our pleas. We strive for a peaceful solution to the war. In the past month, I've visited Chechen villages to compile a list of the ill and wounded. In 10 months:
*More than 30,000 people have died.
*More than 2,000 people have lost limbs or eyes.
*More than 8,000 people have suffered bodily mutilation as the result of bombing, gunfire, or mines.
*More than 23,000 people are suffering from malnutrition, severe illnesses, or other life-threatening diseases.
*Massacres of children, women, and the elderly have been documented by human rights activists. In Samashky last April, more than 250 people died. More than 300 are still missing.
Nearly 400,000 refugees face a winter in the mountains without adequate housing, water, food, clothing, or medicine. Meanwhile, Russian and Chechen women seek the whereabouts of their husbands and sons. The lists of the dead and missing grow daily. No human should suffer in silence like the people of Chechnya have.
On Oct. 11, I called for UN observers, as I have many times before, so that implementation of the military accords signed by Chechen and Russian negotiators on July 30 could finally take place, leading to further talks and elections. Renewed bombing of our villages on Oct. 8 and threats to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Grozny have made UN observers imperative.
Even as President Boris Yeltsin accuses NATO and the West of genocide in the Bosnian crisis, Russian planes are killing innocent women and children in Chechnya. On Oct. 8, the Russian military bombed the village of Roshni-Chu. OSCE chief Sandor Meszaros confirmed at least 28 people dead, 60 injured, and 100 homes destroyed. On Oct. 14, air attacks on Dargo and Belgatoi in southern Chechnya left more than 17 people dead and 23 others wounded. Russian Security Council members Vladimir Rubanov and Oleg Lobov conceded the incident at Roshni-Chu "looks very much like a war crime." Despite the atrocities, my government is committed to the peace talks.
As a small, ancient, Muslim nation striving for peace, we ask you not to ignore Chechnya. We need UN help now to ensure that the traditionally volatile Caucasus becomes a symbol of peace for the world. We want to coexist peacefully with our neighbors, including the Russian Federation. We are willing to be part of the CIS. We are grateful to OSCE for its role in peace efforts between Chechen and Russian negotiators. Russia says Chechnya is a domestic problem. It is not. The violation of human rights must concern all nations.
Answer pope's challenge
We ask the UN to answer the pope's challenge by sending UN observers to Chechnya. We need dialogue at the highest levels between both sides to complement the talks being mediated by the OSCE. Mr. Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, myself, and countless others are committed to this peace process. I am willing to talk to them. This war is a tragedy not only for us but for the Russians also.
The pope challenged the UN to create a "true culture of freedom" for everyone, urging stronger nations not to dominate but to welcome and help the weaker nations. He condemned all countries who oppress minorities or breed violence and war through an "insane ideology of nationalism," saying major ethnic and religious groups have the right to self-determination. Finally, the main duty of the UN should be to protect the rights of all, including small ethnic groups such as ours.
The UN is helping resolve the tragic events in Bosnia. Leaders of the world, please answer the pope's challenge with regard to Chechnya. We are ready.