By Umberto Bacchi
TBILISI - Dozens of Georgian families occupied a tower block this week in a protest activists said highlighted widespread frustration among people still waiting to be rehoused more than a decade after war drove them from their homes.
More than 280,000 Georgians were uprooted by conflicts in the early 1990s in the rebel Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions and again in 2008 when Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war.
Many have been re-housed by the government, but about 40,000 families are still waiting for a new home, according to official figures. Most live in abandoned buildings, rented flats, or with relatives, support groups say.
"I've been waiting for a flat for 27 years," said Nellie Jikia, a 75-year-old woman from Abkhazia who was among more than 100 people who broke into the block under construction on the outskirts of the capital on Monday.
They remained there for four days to demand they be allocated flats, while authorities who had cordoned off the building negotiated with them.
Sitting outside the apartment block, Jikia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she was giving up to avoid another cold night without food.
By Friday morning all the occupants, including two women who had gone on hunger strike, had been persuaded to leave, Georgia's Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons said.
Georgia provides poor families uprooted by conflict with a monetary allowance and is building new houses, buying private apartments and supporting mortgages to accommodate them all.
Homes are usually allocated first to those deemed most vulnerable, leaving others to wait.
"Frustration is understandable since many of them are waiting for years," said Dimitri Zviadadze, head of the Consortium Legal Aid Georgia, a charity.
The government currently houses about 2,000 families a year, or 5 percent of those in need, he said.
The ministry said it would look into the cases of those who occupied the building, but they should not expect preferential treatment.
"Every family will have its decision made in compliance with relevant rules," said ministry spokeswoman Marika Matiashvili.