Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern at the humanitarian impact of recent fighting on the civilian population in Georgia, which has suffered loss of life and injury, significant damage to property and infrastructure, as well as sizeable displacement.
Heavy fighting began last Thursday in South Ossetia between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, with Russian forces becoming involved there and in the separate region of Abkhazia in north-western Georgia over the past several days.
Many have been killed and wounded, and large numbers of people have been uprooted from their homes. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, with some having fled to other parts of Georgia while others moved to North Ossetia in Russia.
Mr. Ban yesterday welcomed the acceptance by Georgia and Russia of a proposed peace plan to end the conflict, and urged the parties to move quickly to halt the fighting. The Secretary-General discussed the conflict during a telephone call with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili earlier today.
Notwithstanding the ceasefire agreement, “there are reports of some continuing violence, with civilians bearing the brunt,” today’s statement noted.
“All fighting should end immediately and the current state of lawlessness should cease,” it stressed, adding that the UN stands ready to assist the Governments of Georgia and Russia to respond to the humanitarian needs of the affected populations.
UN agencies, including UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as other humanitarian actors, have begun providing relief supplies to tens of thousands of affected persons in those areas of the country that are accessible.
However, large parts of the conflict-affected area, particularly South Ossetia and the Gori region, remain, for the most part, inaccessible to humanitarian organizations due to ongoing insecurity, lawlessness and other constraints.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres plans to take up this issue when he visits the two countries.
Meanwhile, UNHCR said its second humanitarian flight arrived in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, today, bringing in 32 tons of vital aid supplies, including tents, jerry cans, blankets and telecommunications equipment.
The agency also reported that two of its vehicles were hijacked at gunpoint today by people in unmarked uniforms on the outskirts of Gori. The UNHCR team had been travelling to the Gori region to identify areas of displacement and assess the immediate needs of the displaced. The vehicles were later recovered and the two UNHCR staff members made it safely back to Tbilisi.
Despite that incident, UNHCR is moving ahead rapidly with assessment missions and the distribution of aid to thousands of people. Immediate needs include medications for people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Sanitation and hygienic items, as well beds and mattresses, are also in great demand.
A third UNHCR airlift flight is scheduled to land in the Georgian capital tomorrow. In addition, UNHCR is scheduling two flights to Vladikavkaz, in Russia, for next week.
In a related development, the UN Resident Coordinator in Georgia, Robert Watkins, has appealed to all sides to allow the establishment of a humanitarian corridor, as agreed in the ceasefire plan.
UNICEF, for its part, is working to ensure that all children have basic health and hygiene needs taken care of. The agency is particularly concerned about the psychological impact on children of the escalation in violence.
“Aerial bombardments, snipers, tanks – these are devastating for children and this is a number one concern that the huge escalation in violence and conflict will have a psychological impact not only on children but on their parents as well,” said Benjamin Perks, Deputy Representative of UNICEF in Georgia.
The Secretary-General’s Representative on the Human Rights of IDPs, Walter Kälin, has expressed his alarm at reports that humanitarian access is still blocked and by allegations of widespread looting of property left behind by the displaced.
He “urges all parties to the conflict to ensure that persons who wish to do so can leave areas affected by violence, that property left behind be protected, and that unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations to conflict areas be granted,” according to a news release issued in Geneva.