Aid pours into Georgia, S. Ossetia still cut off

A2313123113.jpgGENEVA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United Nations and Red Cross have poured hundreds of tonnes of aid supplies into Georgia but need better security conditions before deploying in South Ossetia, the two bodies said on Friday.

Although South Ossetian, Russian and Georgian authorities have all given the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) a green light to enter the rebel province, it awaits firmer guarantees.

“We are ready to go at any time from both North Ossetia and from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi,” ICRC spokeswoman Anna Nelson told a news briefing. “We will be operational as soon as security guarantees are in place and we’re sure that it’s safe.”

The neutral humanitarian agency has flown 100 tonnes of aid into Georgia, with another 45 tonnes due on Friday. “We are now in full swing, distributing supplies and restoring access to water in shelter centers in and around Tbilisi,” she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced alarm on Thursday at the humanitarian situation and lawlessness in parts of Georgia, particularly South Ossetia and the Gori region which remain off limits amid reports of looting by irregular militias.

“For us, it is a question of access, access, access — total and free — to South Ossetia, around Gori and also to the ports,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Russian forces poured into Georgia last week after Tbilisi tried to restore control over the separatist region of South Ossetia to try to take back control over the pro-Russian region.

DANGER TO AID WORKERS

Highlighting the danger to aid workers, armed men in unmarked military uniforms near Gori — south of the main conflict zone — forced two staff of the U.N. refugee agency to surrender their vehicles on Thursday.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, will travel to Georgia and Russia next week to assess its relief operations in both countries, spokesman Ron Redmond said.

More than 118,000 people have been uprooted by the conflict, including 30,000 who crossed into Russia, Redmond said. The UNHCR flew more than 100 tonnes of aid into Georgia this week.

European Commission officials in Moscow waited for Russia to let its humanitarian specialists enter South Ossetia to assess aid requirements.

“We have asked when this would be possible and we were told that when the security situation allows we could enter,” said Taneli Lahti, a senior Commission official.

An official from the Commission’s humanitarian aid unit praised the standards in a refugee camp established in the Russian region of North Ossetia, near the conflict zone.

“The response by Russia’s (Emergencies Ministry) and local Red Cross is very comprehensive to health and food needs,” Samuel Marie-Fanon said after he toured the camps this week.

He estimated that there are around 4,000 people in the camps and was told another 12,000 people were staying in host families throughout Northern Ossetia.

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