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Russia pledges cash to Chechnya

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has allocated money to rebuild Chechnya's shattered economy as the Council of Europe has voted to restore Moscow's full privileges.

The council agreed Moscow's record in Chechnya had improved sufficiently to restore voting rights in its Parliamentary Assembly.

Russia's right to vote was suspended last year after the council became frustrated at the failure of European governments to put pressure on Russia to halt its alleged bombardment of parts of Chechnya.

Russia pledged nearly 500 million on the eve of the vote on Thursday despite human rights groups saying abuses committed by Russian troops against the Chechens are continuing.

Amnesty International has called for tough action, and the new U.S. administration issued a fresh denunciation of the Russian military campaign.

The vote, which went 88 in favour and 20 against, with 11 abstentions, comes a week after a council delegation toured the troubled Caucasus region.

A team from the 43-member club of European democracies, which has little power but rather prestigious clout, spent two days in Chechnya, the latest in a string of visits.

It also follows an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is to switch tactics from large-scale attacks involving its 80,000 troops currently stationed in the region, to smaller, swifter units more adapt at dealing with the hit-and-run tactics employed by the Chechen separatists.

Russia has suffered daily casualties in its 16-month Chechnya war, and the command of the campaign has now been shifted to the country's chief security agency.

Putin did not say when, or how many of the troops would be withdrawn, but ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies quoted the defence ministry as saying paratroop units and some artillery equipment were preparing for a pullout next month.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told a weekly cabinet meeting of the new Chechyan cash injection, equivalent to just under $500 million, which is part of efforts to entrench civilian rule.

He told Russian television: "Above all, we have plans for gas and water supplies and creating jobs, for beginning the direct rehabilitation of the economy.

"Most important are the construction sector and home building, rejuvenation of the oil industry and agriculture, which is one of the fundamental spheres of the Chechen economy."

A prime minister has been appointed to work under a Moscow-installed administrator in Chechnya, where Russian forces launched an offensive 16 months ago to crush separatists.

Less than a week after President George W. Bush's inauguration, the U.S. State Department accused Russia of human rights abuses in the Chechen campaign and urged the Kremlin to find a political settlement in the region.

"The fighting has continued and there are continuing and credible reports of humanitarian abuses against the civilian population by Russian troops," spokesman Richard Boucher said on Wednesday.

Russia has pledged to redouble efforts to investigate allegations of abuses and to develop civil institutions.

Amnesty International spoke of daily abuses in Chechnya and said the council "has an obligation to remind the Russian authorities that no country is above the law."

A report by the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights said Russian forces shelled homes and schools, extorted money, looted houses, tortured suspects and arbitrarily killed civilians.

It urged the council to expel Russia.

Two thousand Chechen civilians rallied to demand an end to the military offensive on Wednesday and called for a full withdrawal of Russian troops.

The protesters gathered in the city of Gudermes, headquarters of the Kremlin-backed Chechen administration, and in Shali, a town in southern Chechnya.

Russian troops moved into Chechnya in September 1999 following separatist attacks on Dagestan and the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Russia failed to regain control over Chechnya during the 1994 to 1996 war.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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Moscow pledge on Chechen human rights
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