UN lowers risk level for Chechnya
By Tomáš Vršovský
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - The United Nations has improved the security assessment of the situation in Chechnya, thus allowing wider access to this North Caucasus republic for aid agencies, Prague Watchdog has learnt from a well-informed source in the region.
The "security phase V" or "Evacuation" in Chechnya, standing for the highest risk, has been reduced to "security phase IV", which allows the UN staff to carry out overnight or several day missions or even be based in the republic. Up until now, foreign aid workers working for the UN could only conduct short monitoring and assessment missions with their number being limited and their organizing complicated.
Representatives of international humanitarian agencies have long lobbied for this decision, which will now help them to better serve the needy and to carry out their recovery and development projects. However, they will keep struggling with a huge amount of paperwork and endless checks by Russian authorities that treat all foreigners in the North Caucasus region with suspicion.
The lower risk assessment also paves the way for the opening of UN offices in Chechnya. Following his visit to Grozny this past spring, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the UNHCR would open an office the war-torn republic of Chechnya as soon as security conditions allow. "Our staff is anxious to work in Chechnya... ...If we can also be present, we'll be able to provide more effective protection and assistance to returnees," he told a press conference in Moscow in April.
However, it is expected that aid agencies will at first deploy their local staff in Chechnya, while foreign workers will follow later on. And it is also likely that it will take several weeks or months before the UN establishes its permanent presence in the troubled republic.
This decision, approved by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, was communicated to UN agencies on July 28 and took effect immediately. It also upgrades the security phase in Kabardino-Balkaria, which a year ago saw an outbreak of violence in its capital Nalchik, from II to III, and reduces the security phase in the Kurskoi District of Stavropolsky Region from V to IV, the source told Prague Watchdog. The Office of UN Secretary General was not immediately able to provide a comment on the issue today.
This year, nine UN agencies and 13 NGOs are running joint operations in Chechnya and its neighbouring republics under the Inter-Agency Transitional Workplan for the North Caucasus. Many other NGOs, along with local and federal authorities, contribute to these protection, recovery and development efforts.
Chechnya has been in the "security phase V" since March 5, 1999.