Looting, fires rage in S. Ossetia - rights groups

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at qmul.ac.uk
Thu Sep 11 15:24:22 UTC 2008

Looting, fires rage in S. Ossetia - rights groups

Thu Sep 11, 2008 10:19am EDT

MOSCOW, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Neither South Ossetia's local government  
nor the Russian army are providing adequate security for citizens in  
the breakaway territory after last month's Russia-Georgia war, rights  
groups said on Thursday.

Representatives of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and Russian group  
Memorial were reporting on a trip to the province, which until the  
conflict was a patchwork of South Ossetian and ethnic Georgian villages.

"South Ossetian authorities are not ensuring the defence of property  
of residents of Georgian enclave villages or the safety of people  
remaining there," said Alexander Cherkasov of Memorial.

"Currently the (ethnic) Georgian villages we visited...are practically  
burnt to the ground. Now, a month after military operations, the final  
houses are being torched, and every day we saw new fires."

Georgia and Russia went to war on Aug. 7-8 after Tbilisi ordered  
artillery strikes on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali in a bid to  
recapture the rebel, pro-Russian region.

South Ossetia had declared de facto independence in the 1990s, though  
remained de jure within Georgia proper. A tri-partite peacekeeping  
mission with Russia had maintained a semblance of order for over a  

Georgia says it had to attack to prevent its peacekeepers from being  
killed by South Ossetian troops. Russia says it was morally obliged to  
invade to prevent what it called "genocide".

In the days following Russia's military push into Georgia and its  
subsequent drubbing of well-equipped but improperly managed Georgian  
forces, irregular troops and bandits began looting and burning  
civilian homes in the region.

"Danger remains not just for Georgian and mixed families, but for  
Ossetian villagers as well from looters who, sensing their impunity,  
steal and torch not just what belongs to Georgians, but any abandoned  
home," Cherkasov said.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said checkpoints first  
established by the Russian army to stop looting had initially worked,  
but as they were removed armed irregulars returned to continue their  
raids on civilians.

"Russian troops set up block posts and were able to prevent the death  
of hundreds of ethnic Georgians at the time. Unfortunately this is no  
longer happening," Lokshina said.

Lokshina said during the visit to South Ossetia they saw armed  
irregulars looting furniture, fixtures and valuables from homes in the  
area. "The enclaves are still burning, and they made no attempt to  
hide it," she said.


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