Russia offers conference on Syria refugee problem

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia Wed Jan 23, 2013 8:39am EST

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NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin offered on Wednesday to host a conference on helping Lebanon and other countries cope with a flood of refugees from Syria.

Putin also said Russia was ready to provide temporary homes, tents, medication and other humanitarian aid during talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman outside Moscow.

"We will do our utmost to ... sponsor the organization of an international conference on the refugee problem," Putin said. "We are ready to offer Moscow as a platform for such a meeting."

Suleiman said more than 200,000 refugees had fled to Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began nearly two years ago, straining Beirut's budget.

The divided Beirut government has officially sought to "dissociate" itself from the conflict in Syria and has resisted calls from humanitarian agencies to set up formal refugee camps like those in Jordan and Turkey.

"There are more than 200,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, and we do not know how many more Syrian refugees will come to our territory," Suleiman said. "Lebanon has no financial... means to house such a number of refugees."

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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