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USIS Washington File

09 November 1999

UNHCR Concerned About Civilians in Chechnya

(Mounting toll of refugees flee Russia's military action) (360)
By Wendy Lubetkin
Washington File European Correspondent
Geneva -- The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed
grave concern November 9 about the mounting toll of Russia's military
actions on Chechnya's civilian population.
A United Nations interagency mission returned to Moscow November 8
after a five-day visit to Ingushetia and Dagestan, where tens of
thousands of Chechens have fled to escape the heavy bombardment and
fighting inside Chechnya.
UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski said nearly 20,000 people have
crossed the border from Chechnya to Ingushetia since the Russians
relaxed border controls November 3.
Janowski said UNHCR does not have any international staff presence in
the northern Caucasus and does not know how many have fled, but he
said the Russian government estimates that 190,000 Chechens have
crossed into Ingushetia. Many are staying with host families, but over
20,000 people are living in makeshift tented camps and railway wagons.
"If this exodus continues there will be more people living in this
kind of very, very provisional accommodation," Janowski said.
Even as Chechens continue to flee, the Russians have transported a
small number of people back to Russian-controlled areas of Chechnya.
Most of them are ethnic Russians who expressed a desire to return.
Janowski said UNHCR does not really have an international presence in
the region. "The Northern Caucasus is still considered by the
international aid community as a no-go area for international workers,
especially since Vincent Cochtel was kidnaped at the beginning of
1998," he said. "Except for the interagency mission which went there
last week, the international presence is very, very limited; almost
non-existent."
Janowski said the United Nations team that visited the region will
hold a press briefing in Moscow on November 11 and will give further
detail about the situation on the ground at that time. "We certainly
expect them to confirm the gravity of the situation."
(end text)
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)



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