December 16, 1999

New York/Paris, December 17, 1999 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) demands that the border between Chechnya and Georgia be re-opened immediately to allow Chechen civilians to seek shelter from Russian bombardments. The border has been closed since Monday, depriving civilians caught under fierce bombardments of any possibility of escape. This is the only exit route for the population in southern Chechnya.

The MSF teams providing assistance to the refugees report the dramatic situation of civilians fleeing the country. On the road leading to Georgia they are attacked by Russian forces and then blocked at the border in extreme climatic conditions - only to be forced back to zones under massive, indiscriminate bombardment.

MSF reiterates its demand addressed to the members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that the Russian authorities cease the bombing of civilians and allow them the possibility to leave safely from the Republic to seek asylum.

In order to allow the opening of the Georgian border and defend the right of refugees to flee, MSF also requests the international community to participate in assistance to Chechen refugees in Georgia and to help them find asylum in safe third countries.

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.