Chechen Prosecutors Move to Close
British Peacekeeping Center

ROSTOV-ON-DON/MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) — Prosecutors in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya have requested the liquidation of a British NGO promoting peacekeeping and community development, saying its accreditation has expired.

Since May 28, 2005 "the office of the Center for Peacemaking and Community Development has been operating illegally," prosecutors said, adding that the center had tax arrears and debts to the Russian government totaling around 0.5 million rubles ($20,600).

No representatives of the NGO were available for comment, but human rights campaigners criticized the move, saying it was linked to ongoing political games between Russia and the U.K.

The two countries are currently caught up in a dispute over Russia’s order that the U.K. shut down regional Russian centers of the British Council, a cultural arm of the country’s government.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has called the organization’s refusal to close two of its regional offices a "provocation", while Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Moscow’s actions showed that cultural cooperation between the counties was being "held hostage to unrelated issues."

The major sources of contention between Moscow and London are Russia’s refusal to extradite the main suspect in the fatal poisoning of anti-Kremlin security service defector Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006, and London’s refusal to extradite high-profile Russian emigres including Boris Berezovsky, wanted by Russia on fraud and embezzlement charges.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on Monday that Russia’s recent actions against the British Council were strictly non-political. However, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov conceded last month that Russia’s decision to suspend work on updating the British Council’s status had come as a response to Britain’s policies.