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Update No. 96/2 on ICRC activities in Chechnya / Northern Caucasus

14-08-1996 Operational Update

 Temporary truce in Grozny  

On 14 August, after eight days of bitter fighting, a first ICRC aid convoy managed to reach the embattled city with urgently needed supplies. The same day the ICRC evacuated 600 inhabitants who had been sheltering in its compound. Since hostilities broke out again in Grozny on 6 August, an ICRC team comprised of delegates and local staff have been doing their utmost to take care of hundreds of civilians who have taken refuge in the compound, including a number of wounded. The ICRC premises have been turned into a makeshift hospital where six local doctors have carried out emergency surgical operations and given first aid. On 12 and 13 August during lulls in the fighting delegates managed to evacuate some 50 wounded and 200 civilians from the ICRC compound to the city's eastern periphery. However, desperately needed water, food and medical care remain beyond the reach of many victims trapped elsewhere in Grozny. Virtually none of the hospitals are now able to provide adequate care for the wounded owing to the shortage of personnel, medical supplies and water, or because facilities have been partly destroyed. The ICRC has repeatedly appealed to the warring parties for a humanitarian truce so that all the wounded can be evacuated and the population and medical facilities can be assisted. It has also asked the parties to facilitate the departure of civilians who wish to leave the combat zones.

The renewed outbreak of hostilities in Grozny is a further setback for the cease-fire agreement that was reached on 10 June in Nazran and lasted until 8 July, when fighting flared up again in southern Chechnya.

 Help for newly displaced people  

An ICRC team in Pobedinskoye, 15 kilometres north-west of Grozny, is distributing water, blankets and food to those fleeing the fighting. An estimated 20,000-25,000 people have already passed through Pobedinskoye on their way to northern Chechnya and Ingushetia. Another team based in Nazran (Ingushetia) is preparing to provide assistance for those arriving from Chechnya. An estimated 10,000 people have reportedly already crossed into Ingushetia.

While every effort is being made to cope with the current crisis, the ICRC continues its programmes for people displaced by earlier battles and other vulnerable groups in the neighbouring republics, carried out in cooperation with the local committees of the Russian Red Cross.

 Medical and sanitation assistance  

On 12 August an ICRC team left Daghestan for Gudermes and Argun (eastern Chechnya) to evaluate the situation in the hospitals, provide them with medical supplies and carry out sanitation work as needed. The delegates have also been able to ascertain that both ICRC-supported public kitchens in Gudermes are still working. In Khasavyurt (Daghestan) the ICRC has been taking care of sanitation needs in 27 collective centres housing displaced people from Chechnya. Such work includes building latrines, delivering safe water, connecting buildings to the central water supply system, organizing waste disposal and disinfection. In August, ICRC sanitation engineers started rehabilitation work on a large water-supply station in the outskirts of Khasavyurt which will provide drinking water for the city's 100,000 inhabitants. 

As soon as the situation in Grozny permits, the ICRC intends to launch a large-scale program me to provide drinking water for the population where this has again become necessary. Until July, the institution pumped and delivered 400,000 litres daily to parts of the city that had no access to other water sources. Substantial relief for the remaining inhabitants and assistance for functioning medical facilities are also planned.

Furthermore, in view of the number of wounded and the absence of adequate medical facilities, the ICRC has mobilized a surgical team which is scheduled to leave for the region in the next few days.

 Visits to detainees  

The ICRC is concerned about detainees, both civilian and military, held in connection with the hostilities. It has persistently requested access to all of them, but although both sides have given their agreement in principle to visits to people detained, in practice access has remained limited. In the past few months protection activities carried out by delegates were often hampered by security problems and by the fact that visits frequently had to be renegotiated despite earlier authorization. On 22 May, visits resumed to people detained by the Russian Federal authorities after a period of more than five months. From May until the end of June delegates carried out nine visits to 28 people held in connection with the conflict in seven places of detention. In mid-July, a team was able to visit 58 people held in one of places of detention visited by the ICRC in Grozny. The visits were conducted in accordance with standard ICRC procedures, each delegate being allowed to talk to a detainee in private and to send a Red Cross message to his family.

 Personnel and logistics  

In all, 43 expatriates and 240 local staff are involved in the ICRC operation in the northern Caucasus. There are 15 expatriates in Grozny, 5 in Nazran, 16 in Nalchik, 6 in Khasavyurt and 1 in Vladikavkaz. They include 9 people seconded by the European National Red Cross Societies and by the New Zealand and Canadian Red Cross Societies. Four expatriates have been seconded to the additional surgical team by European Red Cross Societies.

The ICRC opened a regional delegation in Moscow in 1992 and has been present in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria) since July 1993. It has therefore been able to follow the events in Chechnya from the very outset of the fighting.