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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"This is a humanitarian no-man's land"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 08:39 GMT
UN says Chechens face death

The United Nations refugee agency has warned that there is a "very real risk" that thousands of Chechen civilians could die if Russia continues its assault on the breakaway republic.

Battle for the Caucasus
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said those in danger were not only the terrified population sheltering in cellars in the Chechen capital, Grozny, but the far greater numbers forced to flee to neighbouring territories.

"There is a significant difference between this crisis and the one in Kosovo," said Lyndall Sachs of the UNHCR.

"That took place at the beginning of summer, this is at the start of winter. There is a very real risk of a great number of people dying, not only through the cold but the illnesses you associate with people living in unsanitary conditions."

The BBC's Orla Guerin, reporting from the Chechen border, said that there was another crucial difference - there was no major presence from the international community, no UN aid workers waiting at the border.

When the weary refugees struggled out of the rebel republic, there was nowhere they could go to get food and shelter.

Leave or die

The Russian military's leave-or-die threat to residents of the Chechen capital has sparked an increased flow of refugees.

Hundreds of thousands have fled since the fighting started.

Conditions in the makeshift refugee camps are grim Conditions in the makeshift refugee camps are grim
The bulk of them - at least 230,000 - are thought to have fled to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Several thousand have also crossed into Georgia, and thousands more have moved south to Dagestan.

As many as 40,000 people are believed to be still trapped in Grozny itself.

Ms Sachs said the bulk of those remaining either could not leave or simply had nowhere else to go.

"Many are old, sick or people with young children. But others don't have any family elsewhere to go to."

She said there were now no UN staff operating within Chechnya, because of the extremely perilous security situation.

Halo International was the only aid agency operating in the republic. The International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated its staff last month,
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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny: A city in terror
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Ultimatum sparks Grozny exodus
06 Dec 99 |  Europe
Leave or die, Chechens told
04 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia 'seals off' Grozny
01 Dec 99 |  Europe
Chechens 'using human shields'
09 Nov 99 |  Europe
Staying on to help in Chechnya

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