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UN Refugee Agency Says Thousands of Georgians Return Home

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says a large number of people displaced by violence in Georgia have returned to their villages in the buffer zone around the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

UN refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond says monitoring teams report more than 20,000 people have headed home since Russia withdrew its troops from the buffer zone on October eighth.

This is the area that lies on the border between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

"Most of these people are returning to their homes and villages in the buffer zone or at least checking to see if conditions are safe to do so," said Redmond. "We are warning all those going back to watch out for mines and unexploded ordnance because some casualties have already been reported."

The brief war that erupted over South Ossetia in early August uprooted tens of thousands of people from their homes. Many of them fled to the Georgian town of Gori.

The town quickly ran out of places to shelter the displaced. So the UNHCR built a tent camp there to accommodate thousands of people who left their homes in the buffer zone.

Ron Redmond says the UNHCR closed the tent camp in Gori several days ago. This was done, he says, after the last of the displaced left for their homes in the buffer zone or were relocated to other collective centers.

"Out of the 133,000 internally displaced people registered by the Georgians in August, we estimate that more than 78,000 have returned to their homes across Georgia," he added. "And, we are carrying out a winterization program for those people who are unable to go home and who are living in various collective centers around the country, getting those buildings into shape for winter."

Redmond says it is likely more people will be seeking shelter in the collective centers as host families with whom they are currently staying run out of resources. He says many internally displaced people who currently are renting flats also are expected to go to the centers as they run out of money.

Redmond says the UN refugee agency also plans to convert unused public buildings into apartments for some five thousand people who cannot return to their homes in the long term.

All of these plans take money. So the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is renewing its appeal to donors to respond to its revised flash appeal for nearly $45 million for the next six months.