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Over 2,000 displaced from Georgia buffer zone register with UN agency

29 August 2008 – The United Nations refugee agency says that some 2,300 people from villages in the buffer zone between the Georgian town of Gori and the breakaway region of South Ossetia have registered in Gori as internally displaced people.

“Many of the recent arrivals reached Gori on Tuesday and Wednesday, after being forcibly displaced by militias in villages near the boundary with South Ossetia,” Hélène Caux, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

Some 800 of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) are staying in a tented camp set up in partnership with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) earlier this week. Others are being accommodated in municipal centres.

“Several of the displaced told UNHCR that they had fled fighting earlier this month and had just returned to their homes over the weekend,” said Ms. Caux, who added that people talked about militias entering the villages, shooting in the air, harassing the inhabitants and looting their property.

“The newly displaced in Gori all have stories of intimidation, including beatings by the militia in buffer zone villages north of Gori,” she said. “Others have returned to Gori because they felt unsafe when they arrived back in their villages…They also said they feared the presence of mines.”

According to Georgian officials, between 10,000 to 15,000 of Gori’s inhabitants have returned to their city, out of a normal peacetime population of 70,000.

A UNHCR assessment mission on Wednesday to villages north of Gori confirmed that many returnees they met were traumatized and scared. Some people had returned to their villages even though basic services such as water supply, medical care and food supplies are no longer available.

Meanwhile, displaced people continue to return to their homes in South Ossetia. Russian authorities said more than 25,000 people from South Ossetia have returned from Russia since 12 August. People who are still housed in temporary accommodation centres in Russia are expected to go back to South Ossetia by early September.

“The situation on the ground remains complex and unpredictable in Georgia with continuing movements of people,” said Ms. Caux, adding that UNHCR teams continue to closely monitor these movements, including potential displacement in the region.

More than 158,000 people were displaced during the conflict that began on 8 August – about 128,000 within Georgia and some 30,000 who fled to Russia.

Yesterday senior UN officials warned the Security Council that the overall situation in and around Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains tense, as they briefed the 15-member body on the latest developments in the Caucasus country.

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