Guterres ends mission to Georgia, Russian Federation with visit to South Ossetia

Friday 22 August 2008

TSKHINVALI, SOUTH OSSETIA - Concluding a four-day mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the South Ossetia conflict, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres met Friday with several affected families in the South Ossetia city of Tskhinvali and witnessed the massive relief operation being carried out by Russia's emergency relief organization EMERCOM.

Upon arrival in Tskhinvali on Friday morning, the High Commissioner visited a local hospital which continued to function throughout the conflict, in part by moving patients and the operating theatre to the basement. He also met several affected families in various parts of the battle-scarred city, which has already begun plans for reconstruction.

Guterres met for two hours with the de facto president of South Ossetia, Mr. Eduard Kokoity, and other local officials. As he did earlier in the week with Georgian officials, he stressed the non-political, humanitarian nature of UNHCR's work on behalf of all civilians uprooted by conflict and persecution. Friday's talks focused on aspects that "relate directly to my mandate as UN High Commissioner for Refugees", he said.

"I was reassured by Mr. Kokoity that there will be no discrimination based on ethnicity in the policy of voluntary return of refugees and other displaced persons," the High Commissioner said. "I was also reassured by his commitment to prevent further displacement through the guarantee of safety for all members of the population, independently of their ethnic background.

"We also discussed a whole range of complex humanitarian issues which go far beyond my mandate and in relation to which I will report to the Secretary General of the United Nations," Guterres said before his departure from Beslan airport in North Ossetia.