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Red Cross Begins Assistance to Residents of South Ossetia


The International Committee of the Red Cross says its delegates are assessing the humanitarian situation in South Ossetia and have begun administering to the needs of the resident population. The ICRC says a 17-member team, which arrived in the Georgian breakaway region on Wednesday, surveyed conditions in the capital, Tshkinvali on Thursday and is continuing its mission Friday. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says its aid workers, contrary to some reports, found that the main hospital in Tshkinvali was not completely destroyed, though some buildings in this large complex were damaged.

The 17-member team includes a surgeon, orthopedic specialist, water and habitat specialist and an assistance specialist.

Red Cross spokeswoman, Anna Nelson, says the team is meeting with hospital technicians Friday to see what needs to be done to improve the water and sanitation supply systems.

"The team was told by doctors on Thursday that all 223 people who had been wounded in the conflict and taken to the hospital, had already been transferred to medical facilities in the Russian Federation," she said.

"The team was able to see more of the city on Thursday. They say that there seems to be about half the normal population in the city. This is, of course, just an estimate. Earlier reports had indicated that the city was mainly empty so the number of people currently there could be an indicator that some displaced have returned home," she continued.

In some parts of the city, the Red Cross team reports seeing buildings destroyed, including the library, windows blown out of buildings and covered with plastic. In some of the buildings, it says the electricity and water supplies are up and running with some occasional cuts.

They say supplies, such as oil and fruit juice can be found in the stores, but residents are mainly receiving their meals from the Russian government's emergency agency.

In the meantime, the UN refugee agency reports High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres, is visiting South Ossetia Friday, thanks to the intercession of Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Guterres is the first senior international official to travel to South Ossetia since the conflict between Russia and Georgia erupted
in early August.

UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says his aim is to evaluate the humanitarian situation, get a first-hand view of the conditions for the return of those uprooted by the crisis, as well as the possibilities for humanitarian access.

"UNHCR will continue its humanitarian assistance based in a strictly non-political approach while stressing the non-discriminatory nature of humanitarian action for all of the people affected by the conflict and emphasizing the right of return for all of the displaced regardless of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation," he said.

While the Red Cross and UNHCR have been able to enter South Ossetia, other aid agencies continue to be sidelined.

The United Nations is renewing its call for access to South Ossetia. It says its many specialized agencies, such as the World Food Program and World Health Organization, have resources that other international agencies do not have. It says they would complement and add value to the humanitarian work currently being carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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