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Chechnya: UNHCR relief operation intensifies

Briefing notes

Chechnya: UNHCR relief operation intensifies

3 December 1999

A 15-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 210 metric tons of food and 200 wood stoves arrived in Ingushetia's capital Nazran this morning (Friday) - the second UNHCR relief convoy to reach Ingushetia this week.

UNHCR is boosting its presence in Stavropol - our base for relief operations in the Northern Caucasus. But we are yet to receive a security plan from the Russians which would enable us to actually deploy international staff on the ground in Ingushetia and North Ossetia.

Meanwhile, the flow of people from Chechnya to Ingushetia continues at a pace of just over 1,000 a day. The Ingush authorities say they have now registered 226,000 Chechens. Those interviewed at the border say they are fleeing artillery bombardment in and around Chechnya's capital, Grozny.

It is extremely difficult to give precise figures of civilians remaining in Chechnya. The last population census, done in Soviet times (1989), put the population of the republic at 1 million. But experts in Russia agree that there were no more than 400,000 people left in Chechnya at the onset of this latest round of fighting. This means that most of Chechnya's population has now fled.

Further confusion arises from the fact that some 22,000 people have gone back to Chechnya since 1 November, having already been registered in Ingushetia. Some went back to stay but many went to pick up relatives they had left behind.

The latest convoy brings to 12 the overall number of UNHCR convoys to Ingushetia since the operation started on October 1. Since then we have delivered more than 1,200 metric tons of food to Ingushetia, as well as tents, stoves, coal, firewood and other winterization material. The overall cost to date of UNHCR's convoy operation, which also includes two convoys to Dagestan last September and one to North Ossetia, stands at more than $1.2 million today.