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UN Halts Humanitarian Activities in Chechnya After Kidnapping of Aid Official - 2002-07-29

Humanitarian activities in the northern Caucasus have been suspended by the United Nations, after the kidnapping of a senior Russian aid official in Chechnya last week.

A spokeswoman at the U.N. humanitarian aid office in Russia says the suspension is effective immediately.

The spokeswoman, Viktoria Zotikova, says the halt in operations will last for just two days in Ingushetia, a Russian region that borders Chechnya and has taken in tens of thousands of refugees. It also is the region where missing Russian aid official, Nina Davydovich, was based.

But Ms. Zotikova said the suspension of U.N. humanitarian programs in Chechnya will last indefinitely. "In case Nina is released, we will resume operations immediately," she said, "and in the meantime, we are in close contact with the authorities in both Moscow and in the northern Caucasus."

Ms. Zotikova said she expects it will be at least a week before there is any further word. Meanwhile, she said the United Nations is aware of the hardship the halt in activities will create. "We understand our decision will affect the well-being, the lives of people on the territory of Chechnya, because we have a wide specter of activities there such as the provision of food, non-food, shelter, education programs, medical assistance, water and sanitation," she noted.

Ms. Zotikova said the one exception to the ban is that the United Nations will continue to provide drinking water to residents in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

The United Nations and several non-governmental organizations instituted a similar suspension of humanitarian operations last year, after the kidnapping of an American aid worker in the breakaway Russian republic.

Russian news reports say Ms. Davydovich was kidnapped in Chechnya last Tuesday by unidentified gunmen who stopped her car and fired shots in the air before abducting her.

Chechnya was swept by a wave of kidnappings of aid workers and journalists, among others, after the first war from 1994-1996, in which separatists won de-facto independence. Since then, there have been fewer such incidents. But Ms. Zotikova says conditions could be disintegrating again as the second Russian-Chechen conflict drags on.