Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Georgia Committed Genocide, Russians Say

Sydney Morning Herald
August 26, 2008

Russian investigators have proof that Georgian forces committed genocide in their attack on the rebel region of South Ossetia, a top Russian official says.

"It has been fully established that between August 7 and 12, Georgia's armed forces invaded the territory of the unrecognised republic with the aim of fully annihilating the Ossetian ethnic group living in South Ossetia," Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin told state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

"They spared no one. We found a woman who had been killed with a shot to the head. She was eight months' pregnant. Her unborn child died too," he added. Bastrykin was summarising the results of an ongoing investigation into the Georgian attack on the Moscow-backed rebel enclave, which prompted Russia to pour troops and armour into its southern neighbour.

Bastrykin did not say how many South Ossetian civilians were killed but a senior local prosecutor last week said 133 civilian deaths had been confirmed in South Ossetia and that toll was likely to grow.

Russian officials earlier backed up the genocide accusations by saying up to 2,000 of South Ossetia's population of 70,000 had been killed. Both Russia and Georgia have accused each other of ethnic cleansing and war crimes in the conflict, in which Russian forces routed Georgia's small US-trained army and dug in deep inside the Caucasus country.

A team of 211 investigators has compiled more than 100 volumes of evidence of Georgian atrocities and questioned 3,915 people, Bastrykin said, adding that "all their testimony confirms the fact of genocide".

Meanwhile, a vote by Russia's parliament to recognise two breakaway Georgian regions as independent nations has triggered an outbreak of diplomatic roulette with Washington to review its "entire relationship" with Moscow.

The White House warned Moscow it cannot unilaterally decide the fate of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was ready to break with NATO. Tensions were underscored by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russia would withdraw from some WTO trade accords, as the US said Vice-President Dick Cheney would visit Georgia.

There was a flurry of other activity, as the European Union prepared for a special summit set for next Monday. France expressed concern at reports of looting and intimidation in South Ossetia, while a Russian warship left Sevastopol on Monday. With Russian troops still deep in Georgia, both houses of the Russian parliament passed motions urging Medvedev to recognise the independence of South Ossetia - where the conflict began this month - and Abkhazia. The pair are internationally recognised as part of Georgia, where Russian troops rolled in on August 8 to fight off a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia.

Addressing the Federation Council upper house, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said Russia had saved his region from "genocide". He asserted there was more political and legal legitimacy to recognising South Ossetia's independence than there had been for Kosovo, the Serbian province which broke free with EU and US backing earlier this year.

Abkhaz leader, Sergei Bagapsh, said: "Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will ever again live in one state with Georgia." The final decision rests with Medvedev but he has already signalled his support and he mentioned the South Ossetia case when he said a dispute with Moldova over the Transdniestr region could be settled.

Medvedev told Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin that the dispute over Transdniestr, which lies on Moldova's eastern edge and where there are Russian troops, should be viewed in the context of the Georgia conflict.

Events in South Ossetia showed "how dangerous such so-called frozen conflicts can be, given that the Georgian leadership, as they say, went crazy," Medvedev said, according to Interfax news agency. Transdniestr fought a brief independence war after the Soviet Union's collapse but is not internationally recognised.

"We're reviewing our entire relationship with Russia, both for the medium term and the long term," said spokesman Tony Fratto.

He said was "no question that Russia has not lived up to the ceasefire agreement".

"The status of those two regions in Georgia are not a matter for any one country to decide. They're a matter for the international community, through the mechanisms at the United Nations," he added. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russia was making "an attempt to change Europe's borders by force," in an interview with the French newspaper Liberation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the vote was "worrying" and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called on him to be "particularly prudent" in his decision.

Poland meanwhile hopes to convince the European Union to take a hard line on Russia at a special summit on September 1, its prime minister said.

Security troops in Georgia's separatist republic of South Ossetia detained a group of Georgian policemen, the separatist interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev told Interfax news agency.

Russia withdrew tanks, artillery and hundreds of troops from their most advanced positions in Georgia on Friday. But Russian troops still control access to the port city of Poti, south of Abkhazia, and have established other checkpoints around South Ossetia.

Russia says a six point peace plan brokered by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy gives it the right to leave "peacekeepers" in a buffer zone deep inside Georgia.