August 16, 2008 / 6:50 AM / 10 years ago

Food aid handed out in occupied Gori

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has provided more than $3.6 million in aid to Georgia and supplies are being distributed in the Russian-occupied town of Gori, the U.S. government’s aid agency said on Friday.

South Ossetians receive food aid outside a local Greek church in Tshinvali, August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

The assistance includes a $1 million grant to the World Food Program, the food agency of the United Nations, for local procurement of 650 metric tons of food aid, said Henrietta Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Distribution (of the food) began in Gori today,” Fore said of the Russian-occupied town 15 miles from breakaway South Ossetia.

She was unable to say whether aid workers would be able to go into South Ossetia, the pro-Russian separatist region that Georgia tried to retake last week, leading to the armed conflict with Russia. She also could not say what corridors would be kept open on the ground to move emergency supplies.

Russia is under international pressure, led by the United States, to pull back its troops after routing Georgian forces in a six-day war triggered by Georgia’s attempt to take back South Ossetia, which rejected Georgian rule in the 1990s.

“We are trying to coordinate with anyone on the ground and at all levels,” Fore told reporters. “It’s the beginning of a process ... and we will have more of a sense of the movement of humanitarian supplies in the coming days.”

Four military cargo planes — two C-130s and two C-17s — carrying U.S.-provided relief and medical supplies have landed in Tbilisi and more aid will be airlifted in the coming days, Fore said.

A 12-member USAID disaster assistance response team is arriving in Tbilisi to assess needs and coordinate the effort with local officials and other donors, she said.

Many of the displaced who need help are in the Tbilisi area, she added.

“We are prepared to help with more than emergency needs. We are looking ahead to longer term reconstruction and redevelopment programs that will help the people of Georgia rebuild,” Fore said.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell

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