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UNHCR concern for civilians trapped in Chechnya


7 December -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, has reiterated her concern about the fate of Chechnya's civilian population trapped in the besieged capital, Grozny.

In a telephone conversation yesterday with Russia's top emergency official just hours after Russian media reported that the Russian military had delivered an ultimatum to Grozny's non-combatants to leave the city or be destroyed, Mrs. Ogata said the fate of Chechnya's civilians was at the moment the UN refugee agency's top concern.

Russian Federal Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu had telephoned the High Commissioner to tell her that Russia had taken steps to improve the security of aid workers in the northern Caucasus and would present a written plan shortly. Russia also said it would open airports in North Ossetia and Dagestan to international aid flights.

In the meantime, a UNHCR emergency team today went to North Ossetia's capital, Vladikavkaz, to be on standby for deployment in Ingushetia as soon as security improves. About 230,000 Chechens have fled to the neighbouring republic since fighting erupted in September. The agency has also boosted its staff in Stavropol, the logistical base for relief operations in the northern Caucasus.


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