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Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page A14

Rights Group Condemns Chechnya Kidnappings

MOSCOW -- Widespread kidnappings of civilians in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, most of them allegedly committed by government forces, constitute crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Monday in a report that also condemned the European Union for not taking action on the problem.

In France, Chechnya's Moscow-backed president, Alu Alkhanov, acknowledged human rights abuses in Chechnya but said that "the situation has been improving" and that reports of widespread kidnappings were exaggerated. He also ruled out negotiations with Chechen separatists on independence, autonomy or finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The human rights group's report said thousands of people have disappeared in Chechnya since 1999, the start of the latest conflict between Russian forces and separatist rebels. The report documented several dozen new cases of disappearances that it said had occurred mostly within recent months.

"Witnesses now tell us that the atmosphere of utter arbitrariness and intimidation is 'worse than a war,' " said Rachel Denber of the group's Europe and Central Asia division.

The middle east

AMMAN, Jordan -- King Abdullah ordered the return of Jordan's top diplomat in Iraq, just a day after the two nations withdrew their envoys in a dispute over the infiltration of insurgents across the border, the official Petra news agency said.

The king ordered the envoy's return to Baghdad "to keep the good relations between the two brotherly countries," the agency reported.

Iraq and Jordan engaged in a tit-for-tat withdrawal of envoys Sunday over Iraqi claims that Jordan was failing to stop would-be insurgents from slipping across the border.


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia plans to formally outlaw Jemaah Islamiah, a radical group linked to al Qaeda, in a move that will make it easier for authorities to arrest and prosecute militants in the world's most populous Muslim nation, a security official said.

Ansyaad Mbai, a senior counterterrorism official, said he was convinced that the government would act against the group, which is blamed for a host of attacks and plots throughout Southeast Asia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks.

Banning the organization, which the United Nations lists as a terrorist group, would please the United States and other foreign governments. But the move could raise opposition from Muslim groups and political parties that fear it may herald a broader crackdown on Islamic activists.


PARIS -- Reports of racist and anti-Semitic violence in France nearly doubled in 2004, hitting the highest level in a decade and showing no sign of slowing, according to a study submitted to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

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