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Red Cross Calls for Humanitarian Corridor in South Ossetia

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for the opening of a humanitarian corridor in South Ossetia to make it possible for medical personnel and ambulances to reach the wounded and sick. Aid agencies report food and other essential goods are in short supply. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is very concerned about the humanitarian impact of the escalation of violence between Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgia, which has launched an offensive against rebel strongholds, claims to have surrounded the capital Tskhinvali. Several civilians have reportedly been killed, including Russian peacekeepers based in that city.

Red Cross spokeswoman, Anna Nelson, says it is too dangerous for aid workers to move around freely, so it is difficult to get an accurate picture of how many people have been killed and wounded.

"It is a situation where ambulances cannot move, hospitals are reported to be overflowing, surgeries are taking place in corridors, people are hiding out in their basements," she said. "There is no electricity, no communications, no access to basic supplies. So, it is a worrying situation. And, we also in addition call on all sides to respect International Humanitarian Law and to not target civilians, to ensure that medical transport and medical facilities can treat wounded as necessary."

The Red Cross says combatants must distinguish, at all times, between the civilian population and those taking direct part in the hostilities. It says attacks that are indiscriminate or directly targeting the civilian population, are strictly prohibited under International Humanitarian Law.

In the meantime, the UN refugee agency says it is closely following the situation in South Ossetia. It reports thousands of people are on the move following a week of violent clashes between rebels and Georgian forces.

UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says reports trickling out of South Ossetia paint a disturbing picture.

"This morning, a UNHCR staff member there reported that many buildings and houses have been destroyed and that only military personnel are moving on the streets. Water is also in short supply. That is a chronic problem and it is being worsened by recent events. Most transport has stopped and shops are running out of food," explained Redmond.

Redmond says hundreds of people have fled from South Ossetia to other parts of Georgia. He says aid agencies in Georgia are monitoring the new arrivals from South Ossetia and maintaining close contact with the authorities.

He says the governments of Georgia and the Russian Federation are responding to the immediate needs of the recent arrivals and have not asked for international assistance.

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