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Nearly 200,000 People Displaced By Conflict in Georgia

The U.N. refugee agency says the number of people displaced by fighting in Georgia and the breakaway South Ossetia region is higher than previously thought. The UNHCR puts the revised total at 192,000. Most of them are from Georgia proper. But, this number also includes 65,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs, from South Ossetia and Russia's North Ossetia territory. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency says nearly half of the 127,000 internally displaced people in Georgia have returned home and several thousand more are expected to return before the end of the year.

Of the remaining 54,000 IDPs, it estimates nearly half will need to be provided with alternative shelter through the winter months. But it expects they will be able to return home next year once their houses have been rehabilitated.

However, UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the outlook does not look as good for the remaining 31,000 IDPs who probably will not be able to return home in the foreseeable future.

"They originate from South Ossetia, 22,000; from inaccessible parts of the so-called buffer zone, 8,000; and from Abkhazia, 1,000," he said. "Given that Georgia is already hosting 223,000 IDPs from previous conflicts, this new population will in the longer term leave the country with a total of 254,000 internally displaced people."

The UNHCR reports 30,000 people from South Ossetia fled the fighting between Georgia and Russia. While most remain displaced, it says the 35,000 displaced people from North Ossetia have all gone home.

Redmond says the UNHCR still has not been able to gain access to the buffer zone, a stretch of land between Georgia and South Ossetia. Thousands of people, including elderly who remained in their homes during the war, were forced to flee after coming under attack by marauding militia.

Their homes reportedly have been burned and looted and their cattle killed. Redmond says they now are sheltering in a tented camp in the Georgian town of Gori.

"In another development, UNHCR in cooperation with the government is now putting an end to spontaneous relocations of internally displaced persons from the capital of Tblisi to the overcrowded tented camp in Gori, which is already packed with some two-thousand, 200 people," he said. "Over the past week, several busloads of internally displaced persons arrived spontaneously every day at the tented camp in Gori, claiming that they would rather stay there than be relocated in Tblisi."

Redmond says authorities in the Georgian capital are currently vacating schools and sending IDPs to alternative accommodations so the school year can start next week. However, he says some of the displaced refuse to be relocated and are leaving for Gori.