UN Mounts Emergency Relief Aid in Caucasus

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday it had launched an emergency airlift to stockpile humanitarian supplies for civilians caught in the South Ossetia fighting, which has spread to other parts of Georgia

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, released $2 million to cover the needs of those displaced by the fighting in Russia and Georgia. UN personnel were being deployed to the areas as well.

The UN Security Council in New York planned yet another round of discussions later on Monday on the war in Georgia, and was to be updated on the ground situation by UN peacekeeping officials.

"Our main concern as the UN refugee agency is with the safety of the civilians, both displaced and non-displaced, and with humanitarian access with the possibility for us to help those in distress, especially the uprooted," Guterres said from his Geneva office.

"We have mobilized our financial resources and our humanitarian resources," he said. "Airlifts are starting with relief items to be able to help people. But we need to be able to get to them."

Tens of thousands in need of help

UNHCR said the first flight carrying 20,000 blankets and other aid items was scheduled to leave late Monday from Dubai, where the agency has a warehouse of relief supplies. A second flight will leave Copenhagen on Wednesday for the Caucasus.

The two flights will carry enough relief supplies for at least 30,000 people reported to have fled South Ossetia. Many of them crossed into Russia since the fighting erupted last Thursday.

UNHCR has been providing humanitarian assistance to 275,000 people in Georgia before the conflict with Russia broke out. It maintains six offices and a total of 50 staff.

In a further sign of a growing number of people displaced by the fighting, UNHCR said its team in Georgia reported on Sunday that up to 80 percent of inhabitants, or about 56,000 people in Gori, a major city in central Georgia, had left in fear of Russian attacks. Russian troops reportedly had reportedly captured Gori Monday.

[Source: Deutsche Welle, Georgia, 11Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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