The last week of 1999 and the early days of 2000 have brought significant changes concerning the situation in Chechnya. That period was marked by storming of Grozny which is still far from being accomplished (1), Putin's acting presidency, its possible impact on the future of the conflict in Chechnya (2) and the plight of Grozny civilians who still remain in the storming city (3).
1. Last week (26/12/99-02/01/2000) after keeping relentless artillery and rocket strikes on Grozny Russian troops managed to withdraw the rebel forces from the northwestern part of the Chechen capital. Both Russian officials and a spokesman for the Chechen president confirmed that, although the Chechens claim it as a "tactical withdrawal" which enable them to regroup. The Russian plan is to take Grozny district by district but they say they are meeting fierce resistance. Pro-Russian Chechen militia units, who are leading the fighting, said they had seized the Staropromyslovsky district in the north-west of Grozny. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has called on his troops to defend the capital "to the end". There are estimated to be at least 2,000 well-armed rebels in Grozny, defending their positions with sniper fire and by mining roads. There are also reports of fierce fighting at the entrance to the Argun gorge, which links Chechnya to Georgia. The Russian military say paratroopers overran strategic heights near the rebel stronghold of Vedeno in the southern mountains on 1 January.
2. Fears are growing for the fate of Chechnya's civilians as Russia steps up its new year campaign to take the capital, Grozny, and rebel-controlled areas in the south. The air and artillery bombardment against the capital has continued unabated as Moscow accused the Chechen rebels of endangering the lives of those they claim to protect by using home-made chemical weapons. Ground troops are reported to have been involved in fierce street battles in the outskirts of the city as Russia's major operation to seize the city moves into its second week. Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to be hiding in the city. Refugees who have escaped the city say that these people are hiding in freezing cellars, too afraid to venture out for food or water or even risk fleeing the city.
3. Vladimir Putin has marked the first day of his acting presidency of Russia by paying a surprise visit to Russian soldiers fighting in Chechnya. Mr Putin, who also remains Prime Minister, flew to the Russian-held town of Gudermes in the breakaway republic to award medals to the troops. "I want you to know that Russia highly appreciates what you are doing," Mr Putin said to officers and soldiers in the town, 18 miles east of the regional capital Grozny. "This is not just about restoring the honour and dignity of Russia. It is rather more important than that. It is about putting an end to the break-up of the Russian Federation. That is the main task. Russia is grateful to you," he said, in remarks broadcast live on Russian television early on New Year's Day. Before he left the republic, Mr Putin said that Russia would pursue its current military tactics in Chechnya, adding that he had developed the tactics himself. He said the Russian campaign was not tied down to any specific dates.
"We are going to do everything in an optimal way. Optimal means lowest possible casualties among our troops and absence of casualties among civilians," Mr Putin said.
Mr Putin was appointed acting president after Boris Yeltsin's shock resignation on New Year's Eve. He will now serve as acting president until elections on 26 March, three months earlier than planned. He is by far Russia's most popular politician, largely due to the military campaign against the Muslim rebels in Chechnya.
According to the information given away by Ingush Migration Service as of 27 December, the total number of registered IDPs in Ingushetia is 254, 727 individuals (40,277 families). These figures match the average number of persons per family containing in DRC field team registration reports (6,0 - 6,3). A total of 23,191 persons returned back to Chechnya.
DANIDA funded Project
On 26 December DRC had a distribution of UNHCR winter jackets for IDPs living in spontaneous settlments and with host families in Stary Aki-Yurt village, in the village of Noviy Aki-Yurt and in Novy-Aki-yurt tent camp. According to the registration figures collected by DRC field workers during the pre-distribution registration exercise the following number of displaced persons are settled in the above-mentioned locations:
A total of 1,045 winter jackets were distributed in Stary Aki-Yurt, 997 winter jackets - in Novy Aki-Yurt village and 1,327 winter jackets - in Novy Aki-Yurt tent camp.
On December 27 the field workers of the DRC office in Ingushetia conducted distribution of UNHCR winter jackets for IDP children of school age in Sleptsovskaya Railway Wagon settlement. A total of 1,601 jackets were delivered to the beneficiaries there.
On 28 December DRC made distribution of UNHCR/DRC winter clothing for internally displaced people who found shelter in spontaneous settlements of the villages of Sagopshi, Inarki and for school-age children in the town of Karabulak (Tent Camp, Railway Wagon settlement).
A total of 3563 UNHCR winter jackets were distributed in Sagopshi village, 1171 UNHCR winter jackets - in Inarki village, 1295 UNHCR winter jackets and 1295 DRC winter boots - in Karabulak-based camp and railway settlements.
On 29, 30 December DRC had a distribution of UNHCR winter jackets for IDPs living in spontaneous settlements within the city of Nazran.
The total number of relief aid delivered by DRC in that area is 1,200 and 1,200 jackets accordingly.
On 30 December DRC distributed 1,000 childrens toys and 1,000 sweets packages for IDP children in Karabulak Tent Camp and Railway Wagon settlement. This action was greatly appreciated by IDPs and received good comments from the Ingush Republican TV which made a report on that.
Total number of winter items distributed by DRC in Ingushetia so far:
Winter coats: 18,667 (16,496 of
which provided by UNHCR)
Winter boots: 16,134
UNHCR/DRC Program of Emergency Assistance
As a part of UNHCR/DRC agreement concerning the DRC implementation of a program of emergency assistance comprised of logistical support and facilitation of distribution of relief items to 150,000 IDPs from Chechnya and 100,000 members of host families, the latter made the necessary steps to carry on the project on the expected level of performance. For that the additional DRC office facilities have been established in Nazran.
At the request of EMERCOM 174,5 tons of flour, 43,8 tons of millet, 43,8 tons of barley, 11,8 tons of sugar, 29 tons of pulses and 17,4 tons of oil were delivered at 13 distribution points to IDPs living in Sunzha Region (Sleptsovskaya, Troitskaya, Nesterovskaya, Alkhasti, Galashki villages). The distribution was conducted according to EMERCOM population figures - 38,790 displaced persons (including the host families). In addition to that 1,792 mattresses were delivered for IDPs living in Sputnik Tent Camp (Sleptsovskaya village).
DRC continued registration of IDP population in Ingushetia. The number of IDPs registered and processed IDPs made by DRC for the period from 26/12/99 to 02/01/2000 equals 1,662 individuals. Due to the fact that DRC field team has used most of the data of pre-registered IDPs for implementation of the distribution of UNHCR jackets, it is going to increase the volume of the registration exercise to have a sufficient number of pre-registered IDPs for future DRC distributions.
The total number of IDPs registered by DRC so far is 24,026 persons.
The growing scale of DRC operational activities in Ingushetia made it necessary to reconsider and further develop security policy to ensure safe and stable program implementation in the area. As a part of these arrangements, DRC Brian Graham is presently conducting meeting with top members of Ingush Government with regard to consolidating DRC security measures and staffing.
DRC Administrator, Mrs. Annie Tange arrived in Stavropol on 30 December. She will support the administrative part of implementation of DRC Emergency Relief-Aid Project for a period of three months.
At DRC Nazran, the following staff have been employed: Monitor Coordinator, Accountant/Office Manager, 3 Secretaries/Typist, Cleaner. At the Warehouse in Sleptsovskaya, a Warehouse/Transport Manager, a Tallyman, 5 Monitors along with 15 Laborers have been employed, and 3 regular trucks and a casual labor pool organised for the distribution.
Inter Agency Issues
It proved to be vitally important to facilitate the coordination of NGO activities in the area. That's why the second field-level Inter-Agency meeting took place at DRC premises in Nazran on 29 December instead of 5 January. Among the participants of the meeting there were the following NGO representatives: Bhairaja Panday, Head of UNHCR Sub - Office in Stavropol; Tatyana Sikoeva, UNHCR - Vladikavkaz Senior Social Services Clerk; Ruslan Koloev, Deputy Minister of EMERCOM of Ingushetia; Salvation Army representative, Dagman Murtazalieva; MSF - Holland representatives, Satsita Eskieva and Ramzan Ibragimov; MDM representative, Kjuri Idrisov. This meeting was mostly devoted to the aspects of medical humanitarian aid assistance including the contingency planning.
The next field-level Inter-Agency meeting is scheduled to take place on 5 January at DRC Field Office in Nazran.
Lately DRC held meetings with EMERCOM and Heads of Local Administrations to discuss the possibilities of better distribution performance on the part of Local Administrations.
Stavropol, 3 January 2000.
For further information, please contact:
Tom Trier (8) 901 498 08 25.