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UN envoy welcomes assurances concerning voluntary return of Chechen refugees

UN envoy welcomes assurances concerning voluntary return of Chechen refugees

Olara Otunnu
Concluding a weeklong trip to the Russian Federation today, the United Nations envoy for war-affected children welcomed assurances by government authorities that refugees from Chechnya would not be returned against their will.

Olara A. Otunnu, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a statement that during his visit to the region he raised the question of voluntary returns with several officials from the Russian Federation, the President of the Republic of Ingushetia and the Government of the Republic of Chechnya.

"They all gave me direct and firm assurances that the displaced persons will not be forced to return against their will," Mr. Otunnu said. "All the displaced persons I met are very eager to return to their homes; however, they remain very concerned about their own security."

Mr. Otunnu called for several specific actions for the benefit of children affected by the armed conflict in Chechnya, including the observance of the principle of voluntary return of the displaced persons, an end to all use of landmines and the continued provision of international humanitarian assistance.

The Special Representative also welcomed an order by the Military Commander of Chechnya that sets out clear and transparent procedures to be followed during operations to ensure greater protection of civilians and accountability.

Mr. Otunnu voiced strong opposition in response to reports that insurgency groups continued to enlist children into their ranks, even paying some of them to plant landmines.

"The insurgents have also been targeting civilian personnel who they regard as cooperating with the government administration," he said. "I call on those concerned to stop these practices, which are entirely unacceptable."