UN chief: South Ossetia and Gori inaccessible

Ban says aid groups and UN monitors unable to relieve suffering in large parts of Georgia due to ongoing war and lawlessness.

Ban Ki Moon 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ban Ki Moon 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Humanitarian aid groups and UN monitors are unable to relieve suffering in large parts of Georgia due to the ongoing war and lawlessness, which a French-brokered cease-fire has not stopped so far, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday. UN chief: South Ossetia and Gori inaccessible A statement issued by his office said Ban welcomed Wednesday's cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia "but notes that notwithstanding this agreement, violence continues, with civilians bearing the brunt." Ban urged all combatants "to respect and protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law" and urged all parties to end the conflict. The Georgian ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, told reporters that Georgia was complying with the cease-fire but that Russia was violating it. "Georgian cities remain subject to the hostile and aggressive behavior of Russia," he said. "Looting, destruction, murder have become customary." Georgian officials on Thursday accused Russia of violating the cease-fire by sending a column of tanks and other armored vehicles toward Kutaisi, the second-largest city in Georgia. They later said the convey stopped about 35 miles out. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Thursday accused the media of engaging in a propaganda war. "This is a massive disinformation campaign," he said, waving copies of The Washington Post and the Financial Times and quoting reports in them about Russian troops attacking the Georgian city of Gori. Churkin said that all Russian troops had done in Gori was to secure a large ammunition dump and more than a dozen tanks and troop carriers abandoned by the Georgians. "They have like 15 tanks and a number of armored personnel carriers ready to be boarded by anybody else and driven in any direction, and huge stockpiles of ammunition," Churkin said. The Russians acted responsibly to take control of the vehicles and munitions, he said, but were not occupying Gori. Churkin also said he was not aware of any UN complaints that regions of Georgia were inaccessible to aid workers. "I'm not familiar with the situation, and I've not heard any complaints from the United Nations," Churkin said. Georgia, bordering the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia has distributed passports to most in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and stationed troops they call peacekeepers there since the early 1990s. Georgia's ambassador, Alasania, bristled at questions about whether Georgia had misjudged the balance of power in the Caucasus by launching an attack last week on the breakaway South Ossetian region, which is allied with and supported by Russia. He insisted Georgia had only sent "suppressive fire on South Ossetia after Georgia was attacked" from the South Ossetian side. "Nevertheless, we have remorse about casualties" on all sides, he said. Alasania said he had been told that 175 Georgians had died in the conflict as of Wednesday, but added that the toll would surely go higher. The UN's expert on internally displaced persons, Walter Kalin, expressed alarm about the safety of 100,000 displaced people in Georgia, in a statement from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Humanitarian aid provided by the United States and by the UNHCR is arriving in Georgia, but the country is partially divided by Russian troops. UN agencies and humanitarian groups "have begun providing relief supplies to tens of thousands of affected persons in those areas of the country that are accessible," Ban said. "However, large parts of the conflict-affected area, particularly South Ossetia and the Gori region, remain for the most part inaccessible to humanitarian organizations due to ongoing insecurity, lawlessness and other constraints," he said. The UN resident coordinator in Georgia, Robert Watkins, appealed to Russia and Georgia to open a corridor for delivery of relief aid, which was one of the key elements of the cease-fire agreement. US officials said they landed two planes in Georgia carrying cots, blankets, medicine and surgical supplies. The United Nations separately announced that it had landed a second airlift of 32 tons of relief supplies in Georgia on Thursday, and expected a third airlift on Friday morning. France is in discussion with other Security Council members in a bid to draft a council resolution to "cement" the provisions of the cease-fire it proposed to Russia and Georgia, but no meetings on the subject were scheduled on Thursday or announced for Friday. One of the elements of the French plan calls for "international discussions on the modalities of lasting security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Churkin said the Abkhazians and South Ossetians will insist on an ongoing Russian peacekeeping presence in their territories.