German group banned from Chechnya visit

BERLIN - Russian officials refused entry to three Germans - including a one-time cabinet minister - who planned to visit Chechnya to check at first hand the human rights situation there, a member of the group said Wednesday.

Guenter Wallraff, a writer, said the three were ordered by officials at the Moscow airport to get back on board the Lufthansa plane that had brought them from Germany when they arrived Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking by phone from Cologne, Wallraff said he was traveling with Norbert Bluem, who served as labor minister under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Rupert Neudeck, ex-head of German relief agency Cap Anamur.

The group, traveling at their own expense and initiative, had planned to meet in Moscow on Wednesday with the leader of the Russian-appointed Chechen government, Akhmad Kadyrov, Wallraff said. They had then planned to travel to the rebellious province via the neighboring Russian region of Ingushetia.

Wallraff said that their plans were known to authorities. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Georgy Vlaskin said the writer arrived with only a tourist visa, and that authorities only learned from a magazine article of his intention to go to Chechnya and "gather information in the frame of a journalistic investigation."

The Foreign Ministry informed the German embassy of this and said it could constitute "a serious violation of Russian law," Vlaskin said in a statement, adding that Wallraff chose to ignore this warning.

Wallraff's books include a best-selling expose on the treatment of Turkish immigrant workers in Germany.

Russia has tried to depict its war in Chechnya as part of the global war against terrorism. The United States and other Western nations have acknowledged that some of the rebels in the Caucasus region were linked to international terrorists, but also urged Moscow to moderate the use of force and negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.

Russian troops fought an unsuccessful war with Chechen separatists in 1994-96. They pulled out, leaving the region de facto independent until 1999, when rebels raided a neighboring Russian region. Following those incursions and apartment house bombings in Russian cities that killed more than 300 people, troops rolled back into Chechnya.