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Office In Chechnya Once Security Conditions Allow

UN Refugee Agency To Open Office In Chechnya Once Security Conditions Allow

New York, Apr 11 2006

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will open an office in the war-torn republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation as soon as security conditions allow, the head of the agency announced today, saying a presence on the ground would allow it to improve assistance to the war-affected population, which includes tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs).

UNHCR has offices in the Russian Federation republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia, also in the North Caucasus, but security restrictions limit access for its staff to Chechnya, although the agency maintains protection monitoring functions through missions and through the activities of local partners, it said in a statement.

“Our staff is anxious to work in Chechnya. Our partners are very skilled and reliable, but if we can be present also we will be able to provide more effective protection and assistance to returnees. We are ready to open an office in Chechnya as soon as security permits it,” High Commissioner António Guterres told reporters in Moscow, after a six-day visit to the region that included the three republics.

“The remaining problems in the North Caucasus can only be solved first by efforts of the federal authorities, then the authorities of each republic as well as the international community. The development of a true system of law and order is the basis for more effective solutions to the problems of refugees and IDPs.”

During his visits to the North Caucasus, Mr. Guterres met the presidents and other government officials of the three republics and “held frank and open discussions” on how best to meet the needs of refugees and the IDPs, as well as offering his organization’s assistance and expertise, the agency said.

The High Commissioner’s visit to the region began in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia, where he paid tribute to the victims of the September 2004 school siege, in which armed Chechen militants seized School Number One and took hundreds of people hostage. Two days later, the stand-off between the militants and the Russian security forces came to a violent end and at least 331 people, including 186 children, were killed and hundreds wounded.

“First of all, I want to pay tribute to the victims of Beslan and thereby to demonstrate my complete solidarity with the people of North Ossetia,” Mr. Guterres said before his delegation laid wreaths on the monument commemorating the victims.

In Chechnya, he visited a temporary accommodation centre for Chechen returnees from Georgia and Ingushetia, who told him about some of the difficulties they face in obtaining documents, compensation for lost property and finding jobs. Over 60,000 people are so far registered as IDPs by the Chechen authorities, however due to the security restrictions not all people may have been able to register, and thousands have sought asylum in other countries.

The mountainous North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation is a mosaic of nationalities, languages and religions. For centuries, Moscow has been trying to pacify this volatile region.

The epicentre of the region’s troubles is the republic of Chechnya, where ten years of fighting between armed separatists and the Russian army and its Chechen allies, combined with banditry and organized crime, have left the local economy and infrastructure in ruins.

ENDS


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