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U.N. launches Chechen appeal

ROME, Italy -- The United Nations has launched an international appeal in aid of refugees from the Chechen war.

The organisation's World Food Programme (WFP) wants to raise $24 million to feed 175,000 people in Chechnya and 160,000 who have fled to the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia.

"The emergency operation, which goes into effect this month, is aimed at sustaining a battered civilian population that has suffered massive displacement because of the fighting in Chechnya," the WFP said in a statement.

It added: "WFP officials are urgently appealing to donors to give their support to the vulnerable people in this remote, mountainous region of southern Russia, which has been characterised as one of the most difficult humanitarian crises in the world."

WFP food deliveries in Chechnya were suspended before Christmas because of security concerns but are set to resume in February, pending clearance from U.N. security officials.

Russian troops moved into Chechnya in September 1999 following separatist attacks on Dagestan and the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Russia failed to regain control over Chechnya during the 1994 to 1996 war.

But President Vladimir Putin announced this week that the first Russian army units could start leaving Chechnya as early as next month and the pro-Moscow head of the region said he backed a 50 percent reduction in troop numbers to 40,000.

Russia has already pledged nearly 500 million ($750 million) to rebuild Chechnya's shattered economy.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Russian Government
World Food Programme
Chechen Republic Online
Human Rights Watch: Chechnya
Kavkaz: Chechen news agency

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