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Volume 461: debated on Monday 11 June 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the situation in Chechnya; and if she will make a statement. (138244)

We monitor the situation in Chechnya and the wider north Caucasus regularly. Recent years have seen a gradual improvement in the security situation in Chechnya, resulting in the UN downgrading its security classification for Chechnya from Phase 5 to Phase 4 in August 2006. But the security situation in neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan is increasingly concerning.

The death of Shamil Basayev in 2006 was followed by an amnesty under which over 500 rebel fighters were reported to have surrendered, creating the opportunity for a process of reconciliation that could underpin long-term security. Although the general security trend is positive and large-scale military action by federal troops has now ceased, low-intensity clashes with separatist groups continue to be reported.

We believe that the best prospect for political stability in the republic is for the federal and local authorities to work together towards democratic accountability of government structures and to address the social and economic needs of the population.

We remain concerned about reports of human rights abuses in the north Caucasus. There are reports of forced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killing in the republic. We believe that security measures which do not respect international human rights law are counter-productive and that a long-term solution to the region's problems is only possible once an end has been put to human rights violations. It is important that President Kadyrov ensures that all government agencies operate within the law and that all security measures are combined with a full respect for human rights.

The situation in Chechnya and the wider north Caucasus remains an issue of importance in our continuing bilateral and EU discussions with Russia. With EU partners, we raised the latest developments in Chechnya with the Russian government at the EU-Russia Human Rights Consultations on 3 May.

The Government are also active in assisting development in the north Caucasus through individual projects supported by the global conflict prevention pool, our bilateral £1 million north Caucasus education initiative, and the €20 million technical aid to the Commonwealth of independent states special assistance programme, which was agreed under the UK's EU presidency in 2005.