British PM urged to confront Russia over human rights

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Four former foreign ministers have called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to use his landmark trip to Moscow challenge Russia over human rights, in comments published Sunday.

Cameron will meet with President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday in the first prime ministerial visit since relations were severely strained by the assassination of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, the ex-ministers welcomed the visit, which is intended mainly to boost trade ties between Britain and Russia.

But they said there were "a number of serious concerns" that Cameron must address.

They highlighted the "politically motivated" detentions of businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev; the death in custody of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky; and the "increasing hostility" shown to journalists and businessmen.

"These concerns need to be addressed before business can truly flourish," said the letter, signed by Labour ex-ministers David Miliband, Margaret Beckett and Jack Straw and Conservative ex-minister Malcolm Rifkind.

They also addressed Litvinenko's murder from radiation poisoning, which British police blame on Russian lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi.

He has denied any involvement and Russia has refused to extradite him to Britain to face trial.

"The dangers of this corruption do not stop at Russias borders, and Alexander Litvinenkos murder shows the consequences of such lawlessness hitting British shores," the letter said.

"In this regard the prime minister has both a domestic and an international duty to tackle this issue head on during his visit."

They welcomed Medvedev's promises to restore the rule of law and uphold human rights.

But they said Cameron must make clear "that if Russia wants to become a fully fledged member of the international community, as it claims, then words alone will not be enough".

© 2011 AFP

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