For the week from 20/12/99 to 27/12/99 international media reports were mainly focused on developments of military situation around the besieged Chechen capital Grozny and in the south of Chechnya near the border with Georgia where Russian paratroops were dropped in an effort to encircle Chechen militants and trap them in gorges (1). The world major news agencies also were concerned about Russia's efforts to try to return some of the 250,000 IDPs from Ingushetia back to Chechnya (2).
1. The region's capital, Grozny - where thousands of civilians and rebel fighters are believed to be trapped by federal troops encircling the city - came under heavy bombardment last week. Fierce battles were reported between rebels and troops on the outskirts of the city. It is believed that Russia is beginning a "final push" on the breakaway republic, where the mountain hideouts and Grozny are the final strongholds remaining in rebel hands. The Russian military said on Monday that they seized the main civilian airport in Grozny's north, but on Tuesday state television said that although rebels had been pushed out, Russian troops had yet to roll in to the airport because of mines. Russian troops secured control over Grozny's Khankala military airbase last week. Russia has also dropped paratroops on mountaintops on Chechnya's southern border with Georgia in an effort to encircle Chechen militants and trap them in gorges and also to cut the guerilla supply routs in the south.
A large-scale Russian assault on the Chechen capital has begun, reports from Grozny said on Saturday.
Heavy fighting was reported on the outskirts of the city as Russian troops backed by heavy artillery advanced from several directions. Russian Army spokesmen said Chechen militants were putting up heavy resistance throughout the city. Chechnya's deputy military commander, Aslanbek Ismailov, said fierce street fighting erupted early on Saturday, as Russian forces advanced towards the centre, Interfax news agency reported. He said Russian armoured vehicles were using smoke screens to shield themselves. However, he was not sure whether the Russian Army was launching an all-out attack or a reconnaissance raid.
2. It seems that efforts have been made to increase the return of IDPs, who found shelter in Ingushetia, back into the republic. According to IDPs, a food-for-return ultimatum was issued in the past week but this information was denied by some senior officials. IDPs say that they don't want to return to Chechnya because they fear fighting in the forests around their towns and because many houses have been destroyed as the Russian Army rolled over their homeland. IDPs living in Sleptsovskaya Tent Camp said that one official told them to get out of their tents to make room for other people, that is new arrivals.
3. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sent expatriate staff to Ingushetia to look into reports that Russian authorities may be forcing some civilians to return to Chechnya. The UNHCR experts are interviewing some of the 250,000 displaced Chechens who have fled to Ingushetia to determine whether some people have been forced back to areas of the breakaway region under Russian control. According to UNHCR, who have provided food to refugee camps, there is no food shortage in the organized camps.
On 21 December, DRC carried out distribution of winter footwear for school-age children in Sleptsovskaya Railway Wagons camp. The total number of school-age children in this settlement is 1894 persons. According to the registration figures collected by DRC field workers during the pre-distribution registration exercise, a total of 725 families lived in Sleptsovskaya railway wagon settlement by 12 December.
Most of the IDPs there are from Achkhoi-Martan (57,1%), Urus-Martan (24,6%) and the town of Gudermes (12%). The rest IDPs are from Nozha-Yurt, Shalinskiy, Sunzhenskiy districts and from some other settlements.
A total of 1289 winter boots were distributed by DRC in the Sleptsovskaya railway wagons.
On 22 December, the DRC team in Ingushetia made distribution of winter jackets and winter boots for persons who previously lived in a Grozny-based boarding house for mentally disabled people. Last week these people had been finally taken out from Grozny and accommodated in Psedakh and Troitskaya mental hospitals. The total number of people covered in Psedakh mental hospital is 32 and in Troitskaya mental institution 52.
The people targeted in these locations received a total of 84 winter jackets and 84 winter boots.
On 23 December, DRC distributed winter jackets for people settled in MTF spontaneous settlement (town of Karabulak). Earlier this months, on 3 December, DRC made distribution of winter clothing for selected age and sex groups of IDPs at that location and now the needs of uncovered IDPs have been fully met as well. The distribution was made according to the registration information available below:
Number of IDPs
The average number of persons per family there equals 6,6 individuals. Most of the IDPs in this location are from Achkhoi-Maratan village (39,3%) and Vedeno village (42,6%). The rest are from the villages of Shali, Sernovodskoye, Nadterechniy and Naurskiy districts. All IDPs living in MTF are of Chechen origin.
A total of 847 winter jackets were distributed there.
Following the signing of an agreement of cooperation with the Norwegian Refugee Council in Stavropol on 20 December (see below), DRC on 24 December conducted distribution of NRC funded relief-aid items for IDPs in the tent camp settlement "Sputnik" (Sleptsovskaya village). A total of 595 families are settled there. The beneficiaries in this place were 2,223 children of school age.
Most of the IDPs there are from the city of Grozny (59%), Achkhoi-Martan district (23%) and from Urus-Martan district (12%). 97,8% of people in this settlement are Chechens, 1,7% - Ingush and 0,5% belong to other ethnicities.
2,113 winter boots were delivered to the beneficiaries in this tent camp.
Total number of winter items distributed by DRC in Ingushetia so far:
Winter clothes: 2,427
Winter boots: 12,802
During the last week DRC field workers in Ingushetia were mainly occupied with distributions throughout Ingushetia. Consequently, the number of IDPs registered for that period is relatively small - 427 persons. The total number of IDPs registered by DRC in Ingushetia so far is 22,364 individuals.
On 20/12/99 DRC met with Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) mission to discuss the ways of humanitarian-aid program implementation. NRC intends to start a project in the North Caucasus for the displaced people from Chechnya who found shelter in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Taking into account the importance of quick provision of Ingushetia-based IDPs with emergency relief-aid assistance and in view of the fact that as yet NRC is not registered in the Russian Federation as an NGO, it was decided to agree on a joint DRC/NRC cooperation concerning implementation of the NRC "Humanitarian-Aid Assistance To The Displaced From Chechnya" Project. This decision was confirmed on 20 December 1999 by signing the Letter of Intent between DRC and NRC for future cooperation on the program. According to the above-mentioned LOI, a certain number of Convoys with humanitarian aid (winter clothing) will be implemented by DRC under the NRC logo.
Earlier it was agreed that NGOs working in Ingushetia will be having weekly meeting to exchange the information and coordinate field-level activities in the area. The first such meeting took place at the DRC Nazran Office on 25 December, 1999. The following NGO representatives participated in the meeting: DRC, Salvation Army, Mercy Corps International, Center For Peacemaking And Community Development, MDM, MSF-Holland, Agency For Rehabilitation And Development. The partakers presented reports on their activities and agreed on a regular field-level coordination of operations in Ingushetia to prevent possible overlapping during distributions for IDPs and to improve the efficiency of the relief-aid assistance. The next meeting is scheduled to take place at DRC Nazran premises on 5 January at 10:00 A.M.
Stavropol, 26 December 1999.
For further information, please contact:
Tom Trier (8) 901 498 08 25.
Brian Graham (8) 901 497 90 43.