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Moscow rebukes Paris over Chechnya

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia and France are involved in a diplomatic row over the latter's decision to hold a meeting with a representative of rebel Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov.

The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a sharply-worded statement to Paris complaining about the meeting, Reuters reported.

Moscow has already issued similar concerns to Britain and the U.S. following recent meetings between Chechen envoys and officials in London and Washington.

The ministry said French Ambassador Claude Blanchemaison was called in and told that Paris' decision to receive rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev "contradicted the spirit of co-operation and partnership between our countries."

According to the ministry, Zakayev met French Education Minister Jack Lang and senior Quai d'Orsay officials.

The Russian statement added: "In Moscow the question was asked -- who sanctioned a meeting with the representative of Chechen extremists who have proven, direct links with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda?"

It added that Russia hoped Paris would take no steps to further contacts with Chechen officials, as "they act against our country's efforts to put an end to international terrorism."

The French embassy in Moscow declined to comment.

Moscow claims that Chechen fighters are supported by militant Islamic organisations outside Russia, including bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Al Qaeda is being held responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Moscow has been engaged in its second post-Soviet military campaign in Chechnya since 1999, after two years of fighting ended in 1996 with an embarrassing withdrawal.

Zakayev, also a negotiator during the first Chechen war, took part in the only peace talks that have been held so far.

He met a Kremlin representative last November. No one has since returned to the negotiating table.

Western countries generally accept Moscow's assertion that some Chechen guerrilla commanders have ties to international extremist groups while encouraging Russia to reopen talks.

• U.S. rebukes Moscow over Chechnya
January 11, 2002
• European monitors arrive in Chechnya
December 3, 2001
• Russian officials die in Chechnya crash
January 27, 2002
• Chechen rebel leader jailed
December 25, 2001

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