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RIA Novosti

GROZNY, April 13 (RIA Novosti) - A delegation of the European Commission, the European Union's executive body, has arrived in the republic of Chechnya to gauge progress in institutional reform ahead of parliamentary elections here.

On Monday, the visiting EU officials met with the Chechen President, Alu Alkhanov, who assured them that all basic government institutions, except for parliament, were already up and running in his republic. Speaking of the forthcoming legislative polls, scheduled for October, Mr Alkhanov emphasized that his top priority would be to make sure the election was free and fair.

The Chechen President said he was actively working with all parties and movements in the runup to the election. He also told his guests that during a recent visit to Strasbourg, he had invited members of the European Parliament to observe the polls.

Mr Alkhanov conceded there had been instances of human rights abuse in Chechnya lately, as well as breaches of law, including illegal detentions, on the part of law-enforcement agencies. He pointed out that during Aslan Maskhadov's presidency, the republic had become a breeding ground for violent crime, such as kidnapping, murder, and extra-judicial killing. Having said that the rate of major crimes in Chechnya is on the decrease now, Mr Alkhanov assured, putting this down to the growing efficiency of the republic's government and law-enforcement bodies.

He said he was hopeful that the EC delegation's current visit to Chechnya would help European officials get a more accurate picture of the situation on the ground as well as a better understanding of the processes underway.

"Today, Chechnya is open to interaction and cooperation with the European Commission," he said.

Director for Eastern Europe Hugues Mingarelli, who is leading the EC delegation to Chechnya, praised Mr Alkhanov and other senior Chechen executives for their efforts to organize a free and fair parliamentary election. He explained that the main idea behind the delegation's current visit to Chechnya was to examine the possibility of helping republican authorities with postwar reconstruction. He said Europe was willing to help, but stressed that the implementation of concrete assistance projects by the EU depended primarily on how efficient the Chechen government's measures to provide security would prove to be.

Mr Mingarelli also spoke about continuing human rights violations in Chechnya, which, according to him, remained one of the EC's outstanding concerns. He called on the Chechen government to address the problem without further delay, bringing to justice those guilty of such violations. He also reminded to Mr Alkhanov that since 1999, the European Union had disbursed as much as 170 million euros in humanitarian aid for the people of Chechnya. This year alone, the European Commission has allocated some 22.5 million euros for welfare programs to benefit the least advantaged groups of the republic's population, Mr Mingarelli said.

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