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Update No. 96/1 on ICRC activities in Chechnya / Northern Caucasus

26-03-1996 Operational Update

In the troubled North Caucasus region, fighting between Russian federal troops and pro-Dudayev Chechen combatants flared once again, causing more destruction and suffering. Over the past four months, many thousands of people have had to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. Any prospect of a lasting solution to the Chechen conflict seems to be fading.

Gudermes in December 1995; Pervomaiskaya in early 1996; Novogrozny, Sernovodsk and more recently Grozny: in all these places ICRC delegates have been struggling to assist the civilian population, which has once more been drawn into a nightmare situation. The ICRC was able to help people who managed to flee the fighting in the beleaguered villages, however, as no humanitarian truce was granted, it was unable to aid those who remained trapped in these areas. 

Appalling security conditions, arising from acts of pure banditry, have made the work of the ICRC and that of the other humanitarian agencies difficult and even dangerous. Following serious security incidents involving ICRC personnel, the institution has decided temporarily to reduce its programmes in Chechnya and to concentrate on the most urgent needs of Grozny, and the southern part of the region, i.e. assistance to medical facilities treating war-wounded and water and sanitation work.

 Relief and medical assistance  

In the two weeks following the battle for Sernovodsk, some 11,000 persons who found refuge in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia received food and blankets. On 11 March, delegates were able to bring nine truckloads of water and two of food and me dical supplies into Grozny for the first time since renewed fighting broke out in the city. This was to cover the most urgent needs of the civilian population and medical facilities.

The ICRC has had to reduce its personnel in Chechnya to eight delegates following a downturn in security conditions there.

These people will monitor the situation of medical facilities in Grozny and the south, where more wounded are expected as fighting continues. They will also continue the public kitchen programme, which was started on 25 December 1995. With no electricity and therefore no working pumps, the water and sanitation programme in Grozny is more urgently required than ever. It is thanks to the dedication of local employees that the latter, and the public kitchens, have continued in the absence of ICRC delegates who had no access to the city for two weeks.

Several towns and villages affected by the fighting (Gudermes, Novogrozny, Sernovodsk) are included in the priorities of ICRC water and sanitation engineers who will do their best to supply the population with clean water, especially in the light of the fact that this region is threatened with cholera during the hot summer months.

In Nazran (Ingushetia) the ICRC will continue to monitor closely the situation of displaced people from Sernovodsk, while completing its previously planned food distributions to the 40,000 people displaced earlier with the help of the local branch of the Russian Red Cross.

In Khasavyurt (Daghestan), where new arrivals from Gudermes and Novogrozny have considerably augmented the number of displaced people, delegates are carrying out food and clothing distributions to approximately 30,000 people. Work on rehabilitating the sanitation system in Khasavyurt, and particularly in the crowded collective centres there, has also started.

 Protection of civilians, visits to detainees, tracing activities  

The ICRC is extremely concerned about those people who have been trapped by the recent fighting in Sernovodsk. Delegates have not yet been authorized to enter the village. The ICRC has already informed the authorities on a number of occasions of its disquiet over the violations of humanitarian law committed during this conflict.

The ICRC is also worried about the situation of detainees, both civilian and military, and has repeatedly requested access to all those being held in relation to the conflict. Although in principle agreements have been reached to allow delegates to visit detainees held by either party to the conflict, in practice access has remained limited. Since the outbreak of the conflict about 700 detainees have been visited on either side in the Republic of Chechnya   and also in other parts of the Russian Federation. The visits have been conducted in accordance with the ICRC's standard procedures; each detainee being allowed to talk to a delegate in private and to send a Red Cross message giving news to his family.

 Promoting respect for humanitarian rules  

In a region where humanitarian law is little known, it is of utmost importance to reach those involved in the fighting. The ICRC recently received authorization from representatives of the Russian armed forces based in Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia) and Rostov (Russian Federation) to give presentations on international humanitarian law and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to troops based in the northern Caucasus.