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UNHCR: Georgians Living in Isolated Villages Forced to Flee


The UN refugee agency says it is worried about the security of people living in isolated villages near the former conflict zones of Georgia. It says some 2,300 people from villages in the buffer zone between the Georgian town of Gori and the breakaway South Ossetian region have registered in Gori as internally displaced people. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency says the internally displaced include about 800 elderly people who were forcibly displaced from their homes by, what it calls, marauding militia. It says they are staying in a tent camp, which was erected earlier this week to accommodate the newly displaced. It also includes people who have been displaced a second time.

UN refugee spokeswoman, Helene Caux, says many of the recent arrivals reached Gori earlier this week, after being forcibly displaced by militias in villages near the boundary with South Ossetia.

"Several of the displaced told UNHCR that they had fled fighting earlier this month and had just returned to their homes over the past weekend," she said. "They talked about militias entering the villages, shooting in the air, harassing the inhabitants and looting their property. There were no new arrivals on Thursday from the villages in the buffer zone to Gori. But, our teams are closely monitoring any new displacement on the ground."

Caux says the newly displaced tell stories of having been intimidated and beaten by the militia in buffer zone villages north of Gori. Some say they fled their homes a second time because they felt unsafe when they returned to their villages. They say they found their houses damaged and looted, their cattle slaughtered. They also say they fear the presence of landmines.

Some of the displaced say their attackers were militia from South Ossetia.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Simon Schorno, says few humanitarian agencies are present in the remote villages surrounding Gori. Therefore, the Red Cross will focus more of its attention on the needs of the population remaining there.

"We remain concerned about elderly and chronically ill people, particularly those living in isolated villages in all the areas affected by the fighting," said Schorno. "Security situation is still volatile, as has been said, with a large presence of weapons, firearms, a substantial number of people trying to return home are on the move and may feel in danger."

Schorno says the Red Cross is looking ahead at the longer-term needs of the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the fighting between Russia and Georgia.

Nearly 160,000 people have been made homeless, including 30,000 in South Ossetia, during the conflict that erupted on August 8.