Relief workers monitor needs in Georgia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Southern Baptists are organizing an overseas assessment team to evaluate relief needs in the Black Sea country of Georgia in the aftermath of fighting between Georgian and Russian troops and allied militias in the region.

While foreign embassies are evacuating their citizens, thousands of residents of Georgia's South Ossetia region have been forced from their homes by the fighting, according to news reports.

"I just got off the phone with partners updating me on the situation," said Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in the EuroMidEast and North Africa region for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization. "Internally displaced people number over 100,000 and are pouring toward Tiblisi and the surrounding area. They are in bad condition."

Russian troops and regional paramilitaries were on the move in Gori, a strategic city in central Georgia, just hours after a truce was announced that should have sent those forces back to their earlier positions, according to the Associated Press. The city was bombed and looted before those forces moved toward the Georgian capital, Tblisi, and set up camp.

South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in the early 1990s -- a declaration that has not been recognized by the U.S. government or the United Nations. Abkhazia, which lies west of South Ossetia, also has been seeking independence as well. Georgia gained its own independence when the Soviet Union collapsed but has been in conflict with Russia and separatist groups since then.

The current conflict erupted when Georgia launched an offensive in early August to re-establish control over South Ossetia, and Moscow responded with a massive counter-strike, according to news reports. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Aug. 14 that his country believed South Ossetia and Abkhazia independence leaders would not agree to be "forced back into the Georgian state."

The United States has begun moving humanitarian assistance into Georgia, according to the Associated Press, and called on Russia to guarantee that relief workers and supplies would be able to move about freely.

"Please pray for wisdom in determining the timing to enter the conflict zone to provide relief," Shepherd said. "Pray for cool heads to prevail, for the sake of suffering people and for a permanent solution to the ongoing conflict.

"Ask God to comfort the loved ones of those who have died, to give healing to the injured and stamina for the people who have been displaced," he added. "And pray that believers in the area will be comforted by God's love."


Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at gobgr.org.

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