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Guterres seeks humanitarian access, safe passage for civilians in Ossetia conflict

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Guterres seeks humanitarian access, safe passage for civilians in Ossetia conflict

9 August 2008

10 August 2008

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has expressed grave concern over the plight of thousands of civilians caught up in fighting in and around the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Guterres said humanitarian access and safe passage for uprooted civilians and the aid workers trying to help them was now crucial.

"The conflict has caused civilian casualties and more are at risk," Guterres said. "Many people need help and many are seeking safety elsewhere. It is essential that humanitarian agencies be able to reach the affected and the displaced, and that those trapped in conflict areas be granted passage to safer areas as soon as possible. It is absolutely essential that both sides respect humanitarian principles and ensure the protection and safety of civilians."

Several thousand displaced people have fled from South Ossetia to other parts of Georgia, and thousands more have gone northwards to the North Ossetia region of the Russian Federation, according to authorities there.

Guterres said UNHCR, which has an office in the North Ossetia city of Vladikavkaz, stands ready to provide humanitarian support should Russian authorities request it. The agency has some aid stockpiles in both Georgia and the Russian Federation.

Following discussions on Saturday with Georgian humanitarian counterparts and other partners, UNHCR plans to provide basic non-food aid items and temporary shelter where required. For this purpose, the replenishment of stocks from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile has already been activated.

Some 300 of the most vulnerable new arrivals from South Ossetia, including women and children, were transferred over the weekend from the Georgian town of Gori to safer quarters near Tbilisi, where they received immediate assistance from UNHCR, WFP and other humanitarian agencies in collaboration with the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. The provision of further emergency aid requires safe access to areas of displacement and the systematic registration of the displaced population.

UNHCR has six offices in Georgia and more than 50 staff focusing on an existing beneficiary population of some 275,000 previously displaced people, refugees, stateless people and returnees.