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UN to Visit Areas Affected by Georgia Conflict

UN inter-agency assessment team to visit areas affected by Georgia conflict

16 September 2008 – A team comprising representatives of key United Nations agencies is heading to South Ossetia and other areas affected by the recent conflict in Georgia, the world body announced today, adding that a broader fact-finding mission to the region is also being planned.

The objective of the 17 to 20 September mission “is to gain first-hand knowledge of the humanitarian and human rights situations and needs on the ground, including the position of those displaced by the conflict and other vulnerable groups,” according to a statement issued by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates some 192,000 people were forced to flee their homes during the conflict that began on 8 August and involved Georgia, South Ossetian and Russian forces.

The upcoming mission, coordinated with the Russian and Georgian authorities, will visit Moscow, South Ossetia and Tbilisi. The results will feed into the revision of the nearly $59 million humanitarian flash appeal launched by the UN and its partners on 18 August to aid victims of the conflict.

Led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the team comprises representatives from UNHCR, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) is set to expire on 15 October, the same day as an international conference regarding the Caucasus nation is to be held in Geneva.

Speaking to UN Radio today, the Secretary-General said that given the situation, "it would be absolutely necessary that we continue to discharge our mission there, observation, as well as providing humanitarian assistance."

Meanwhile, UNHCR reported today that its teams have now entered the so-called “buffer zone” north of the Georgian town of Gori, where thousands uprooted by last month’s fighting have taken shelter, after having been unable to access the Russian-controlled area for weeks due to insecurity.

“These first UN missions are an important step in achieving full access,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a news conference in Geneva, adding that the agency now plans to conduct regular assessment missions to the buffer zone between Gori and the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Since entering the zone over the weekend, UNHCR teams have conducted two initial assessment missions to four villages north of Gori – Karaleti, Tkiavi, Kitsnisi and Dzevera – and found that most residents appear to have returned to their homes.

In the Karaleti area, close to Gori and right on the boundary of the buffer zone, up to 80 per cent of the population has gone back, Mr. Spindler said. Deeper inside the buffer zone the rate of return is much lower, with less than ten per cent of villagers having come back to the village of Kitsnisi.

“There is still a great deal of fear among the people currently residing in these villages,” noted Mr. Spindler. “Beatings, looting and arson by marauding militias have created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.”

UNHCR teams found that the destruction of buildings and houses is not as widespread as was initially feared and varies from village to village. However, villagers informed the agency that 70 to 80 per cent of this year’s harvest in the visited areas is gone. In addition, there are still a lot of mines and unexploded ordnance, preventing people from going into their fields.

Villagers now rely on firewood for cooking and heating, since the local gas pipeline is no longer functioning. As a result, the price of firewood has risen by 50 per cent. There are also no health services inside the buffer zone, and the population there depends on medical aid and assistance from Gori.

UNHCR reported that school buildings have remained almost intact, but added that the majority of people currently returning are adults and schools remain closed.

“The first assessments show that returnees to the villages in the buffer zone need rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance and the provision of supplementary food items and firewood,” said Mr. Spindler.


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