Undoubtedly, the main news of the past week are the ones concerning the alleged storming of central Grozny, the Chechen capital (1), and those about the fate of Grozny civilians still remaining in the city (2), as well as about IDPs staying in Ingushetia (3).
Western agencies report that more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed on 16 December in an overnight failed attempt to seize the Chechen capital of Grozny. The Reuters and Associated Press (AP) said the dead troops were lying near the burning remains of several Russian military vehicles in Minutka Square, some 3 kms from the city's center.
AP says seven Russian tanks and eight armored personnel carriers had entered the square from the direction of Khankala, east of Grozny. Reuters reports about 2,000 Chechen fighters attacked with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades during a three-hour battle. The agencies said the event marked the first time Russian tanks were seen in central Grozny since the 1994-96 war that ended with Chechnya obtaining de facto independence.
But a spokesman for the Russian military command in the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Veklich, in his statement made in the morning of 16 December denied the western agency reports. In the state-run ORT television he characterized the reports as "disinformation." He added that no Russian armored vehicles entered Grozny.
Meanwhile, the end of the week was marked by escalation of the Russian military attacks against the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Russian armored groups on the fringes of Grozny fired into the capital from three directions. And Russia's air forces stepped up bombing raids on rebel strongholds in the capital.
Moscow officials say that Russian paratroopers dropped into rebel terrain in Chechnya's southern mountains have taken control of a key road leading into neighboring Georgia. The military say rebels have used the route to move supplies and reinforcements into Chechnya. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the military maneuver marks a turning point in Moscow's three-month military operation. Russian generals on 17 December said they will capture Grozny within days, but that they will avoid storming the city with ground troops.
2. According to Radio Free Europe, by the end of the week from 12/12 to 19/12, only about 2,500 of some 40,000 Grozny civilians left the city since Moscow established escape corridors after rescinding a threat that residents had until December 11 to leave Grozny or be treated as military targets. The first deputy chief of the general staff, Gen. Valery Manilov, told NTV television that the army would guarantee the safety of anyone willing to use corridors. However, as Human Rights Watch says, Russian soldiers along the newly-opened escape route out of Grozny are forcing displaced persons from Chechnya to pay bribes in order to cross checkpoints. "Russian forces opened the northern corridor with much fanfare as a protective measure for the civilian population," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "But the beatings, extortion, and threats are a serious obstacle to their safe exit from the war zone." According to Mr. Cartner, "this kind of conduct doesn't add up to 'safe passage'. "Many Chechens cannot flee or return to their homes because of the abuse." Cartner called on the Russian command to investigate border police conduct and enforce discipline. She also called on the Russian government to invite UNHCR and OSCE to establish long-term posts at checkpoints to monitor the conduct of checkpoint police.
3. Last week was also notable for the news from from Human Rights Watch saying that IDPs in the Sputnik camp were being refused food. When they asked when their next meal would be, the IDPs were told to go back home and care for themselves.
Correspondents said many IDPs wanted to return to the rebel republic after hearing that their houses were still intact, to stop Russian troops looting their property. But many were too afraid of the Russian troops to go back voluntarily. Although the camps are run by Ingushetia's authorities sympathetic to the Chechens, Human Rights Watch believe that they do not want to pick a fight with Moscow.
Recently, a re-registration of all IDPs in Ingushetia has begun. DRC field workers in Ingushetia has obtained information from IDPs about numerous cases concerning alleged refusal by the Ingush Migration Services to re-register IDPs who were already put into the MS lists after they fled from Chechnya to Ingushetia.
DRC continues procuring winter clothing to have a fixed quantity of relief items in stock. This allows for a better planning of the distribution schedule and ensures a stable system of humanitarian aid shipments to Ingushetia.
On Tuesday, 14 December, DRC distributed winter boots among IDPs living in Sredniye Achaluki area (Sredniye Achaluki village, IDP camp settlement, "Voskhod", Balka, Cemetery, near-by village of Gairbekovo) and also for IDPs who has found shelter in the kindergarten "Kolosok" located in Karabulak.
In Sredniye Achaluki area, IDPs living with host families, in spontaneous settlements and in a tent camp were covered. The distribution took place according to the registration carried out earlier by DRC. Below are the results of the registration exercise in Sredniye Achaluki area and in the Karabulak based k/g "Kolosok" as of 13 December:
The average number of persons per family in these locations equals 6,9 individuals. Most of the IDPs there are from Urus-Martan (35%) and Grozny (32%). The rest are from Achkhoj-Martan, Shalinsky, Naursky districts and Nozha-Yurt. All IDPs there are Chechens.
A total of 1,165 winter boots were distributed among the IDPs in the above-mentioned locations.
On Friday, 17 December, DRC carried out distribution of winter boots for IDPs living in spontaneous settlements in Sagopshi village according to the following registration information as of 16 December:
Number of IDPs
The average number of persons per family in Sagopshi is 6,6 individuals. Grozny (51%), Urus-Martan (27%) are the main cities of origin of the IDPs staying in Sagopshi. 98% of the IDPs are Chechens, 1,9% Ingushes and 0,1% are of Russian origin.
DRC delivered 3,518 winter boots to IDPs in Sagopshi village.
Total number of winter items distributed by DRC in Ingushetia so far:
Winter clothes - 1,169
Winter boots - 11,433
The field workers of DRC in Ingushetia carry on the registration of IDPs in Ingushetia. During the week from 12/12 to 19/12 a total of 6,937 IDPs were registered by the DRC team. The total number of IDPs registered so far is 21,937 persons.
On 14 December, DRC met with a MSF-Holland mission who came to Stavropol to develop a network of relief-aid cargo shipments through Stavropol, where it is planned to set up a transit storage facilities, to Ingushetia. MSF-Holland is currently involved in implementation of distribution of medicin for IDPs in Ingushetia through a local Ingush NGO, which is going to be responsible for a field-level distribution of MSF medical items to hospitals in the Ingush Republic. The distribution to the hospitals will be based on a one-time principle (a hospital receives a once-only amount of medical items). DRC offered its warehouse facilities as well as informational support.
DRC also met with representatives of MSF-Holland, Merlin and CPCD in Moscow on 14-15 December.
On 16-19 December, the Head of the International Department of DRC, Mr. Anders Ladekarl and DRC’s newly appointed Moscow representative, Ms. Maria Olsen, took part in a mission to the Russian Federation. Together with the Project Manager of DRC in Northern Caucasus, the mission visited Emercom on 16 December in Moscow for discussions of DRC’s present and future relief-aid operations. The mission in Moscow also met a number of donor agencies as well as Mr. Christopher Carpenter, Regional Representative of UNHCR in Moscow during its visit. One of the purposes of this meeting was to introduce Ms. Olsen to UNHCR. Ms. Olsen is expected to be placed in Moscow as of mid-January and will, inter alia, represent DRC in its relations with other Moscow based agencies.
On 17 December, the mission visited the DRC office in Nazran and a DRC distribution of winter boots in Sagopshi, Ingushetia. On 17 December, the DRC delegation was received by the President of the Ingush Republic, Ruslan Aushev, who welcomed the presence and activities of DRC in Ingushetia.
The delegation also met with UNHCR in Vladikavkaz and Stavropol on 18 December, and DRC later that day signed a Letter of Mutual Intent with UNHCR on the DRC implementation of a program of emergency assistance comprised of logistical support and facilitation of distribution of relief items to 150,000 internally displaced persons from Chechnya and 100,000 members of host families in the Republic of Ingushetia.
Copenhagen, 20 December 1999.
For further information, please contact:
Tom Trier (8) 901 498 08 25.
Brian Graham (8) 901 498 08 26.