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Blair-Putin agree terror strategy

Putin
Putin waves on his arrival in London  


LONDON, England -- Russia and Britain have agreed to improve cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference that a new London-Moscow working party would be created for the war on terror.

The announcement was made after Blair held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that concentrated on Afghanistan, Chechnya, NATO and the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

Blair said: "We have agreed on the formation of a bilateral working group on terrorism which will allow our two countries to cooperate in defeating this attack on the civilsed world."

And Putin added: "We must fight terror together."

But the human rights' group Amnesty International has called on Blair to raise concern about alleged civil rights' abuses in Chechnya.

Putin arrived at Heathrow with his wife Lyudmilla and were greeted by a 21-man RAF guard of honour on Friday. The couple are to stay with the Blairs at Chequers, the British prime minister's country retreat west of London.

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Western criticism of Russia's attempts to quash the separatist rebel movement in Chechnya has been subdued since Moscow backed the U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

Amnesty issued a statement accusing Russian soldiers of torturing Chechens. It said bodies of people who had disappeared after raids on Chechen towns and villages had been found in mass graves bearing signs of torture.

"With the spotlight very much on Afghanistan, we cannot not let the torture, including rape, and killing of Chechen civilians by the Russian military go unnoticed," the statement said.

"Amnesty International is concerned that international criticism of human rights violations in Chechnya has been recently muted in an apparent exchange for Russian approval of the campaign in Afghanistan and the wider one against terrorism."

Russia has consistently blamed Islamic militants for its troubles in Chechnya.

Senior Russian officials say the September 11 terror attacks on the United States have led to greater understanding for the fight against Chechen rebels.

Moscow is not contributing any forces to the Western stabilisation force in Afghanistan but is believed to have provided intelligence assistance to U.S. special forces hunting Osama bin Laden, Washington's prime suspect for the strikes on Washington and New York.

The British leader has stood by his proposals to NATO Secretary-General George Robertson to build closer ties with Russia.

"As for Russia joining NATO, that's not a question for now," he said.

"We should focus for now on developing practical cooperation of immediate benefit to Russia and NATO."

It is the ninth meeting between Blair and Putin in less than two years and comes just weeks after the British leader went to Moscow in October to ensure that the Russians were onside before the start of the war in Afghanistan.

During the two days of talks Putin is also expected to raise U.S. President George Bush's stated intention to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in six months' time in favour of his national defence plans.

Russia wants to keep the agreement in place arguing that dumping the treaty will threaten stability. Downing Street has yet to comment insisting it is a matter between the U.S. and Russia.

Business is also expected to be discussed with Putin scheduled to meet the heads of oil and gas groups during his informal stay.



 
 
 
 


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