Russian rivalries hamper UN aid

The United Nations aid operation in south Russia has run foul of differences between the Russian foreign and defence ministries and met obstruction by the military, the senior field officer in the region for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees s aid yesterday.

The fighting has displaced up to 300,000 people from Chechnya, of whom 80,000 are believed to be in neighbouring Ingushetia - which only had 230,000 people before - and 120,000 in Dagestan, plus some the UN has discovered in north Ossetia. Although they are all in the Russian Federation, borders between them are as rigidly enforced as any international frontier, and that is part of the UN's problem. Larry Hollingworth, veteran of wars and humanitarian disasters in Bosnia, Rwanda, Abkhazia and Georgia, was waiting for the second UN shipment of 40 tons of aid at Beslan airport, which serves Vladikavkaz.

The first plane arrived on Sunday, but the aid has yet to be distributed to where it is needed - mainly in Ingushetia, where Mr Hollingworth and his team need daily permission to go.

Yesterday the airfield was closed, because of snow, or maybe because the Russian air force has used it so intensively to supply the Grozny operation that the runway is damaged. Mr Hollingworth was told it would open at 3pm. Then, having received assurance that the plane was on its way from Turkey, the airport manager denied all knowledge.

It emerged there was a "new rule" that planes from Turkey or Iran had to enter via one of three airports - Moscow, Samara or Novgorod.

This is probably to do with fears that arms may be smuggled to the Chechen rebels. But the plane was already at Mineralnye Vody, about six hours' drive away, and there was a possibility it might be able to land yesterday evening or today.

Mr Hollingworth said he was impressed by the courtesy and efficiency of the Russian authorities at the airport but "the problem is when they suddenly say `this has to be cleared with Moscow'. We were invited by the ministry of foreign affairs. I think that's it. I think all the blocking is coming from the military. I think they feel our aim is to monitor human rights; they don't want us to take in any aid that will get into the mouths of the Chechen fighters because they have plans to cut off all ammuni tion and food to the Chechens.

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