Russian prosecutors investigating the country's August war with Georgia claim they have found evidence that Tbilisi committed genocide against the people of South Ossetia during the conflict.
An accusation by the Russian prosecutor’s investigative committee that Georgia committed genocide in its August conflict with Russia has provoked a furious war of words between Moscow and Tbilisi.
“We can say that we have witnessed the genocide of the Ossetian people,” claimed the head of the committee, Alexander Bastrykin, before going on to concede that 162 South Ossetians lost their lives during the conflict.
That’s a far cry from the 2,000 originally claimed by the Russians in August and the 500 cited by the South Ossetian authorities. It is not clear what percentage died during artillery exchanges and the aerial bombardment of Georgian positions in South Ossetia by the Russians. Nor is it clear how many of those killed were Ossetian militiamen, many of whom discarded their uniforms during the fighting.
“What’s important is not the number,” Bastrykin said. “What’s important is that we have established that there was a conscious and planned action to destroy the Ossetians as an ethnic group.” He did not offer any evidence.
The statement provoked outrage in Georgia, which described the accusations as a “cynical lie” and part of an ongoing Kremlin propaganda campaign.
It comes, too, against charges that Russia is seeking to conceal its own part in the ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population of South Ossetia.
Human rights organisations have consistently reported that Georgian villages, which make up over one third of the population of the breakaway province, have been systematically burned and looted by South Ossetian militias, despite the fact that the Russian army now has full responsibility for security in the province. Refugees from the area have reported mass killings and rape.
Russia has recognised the two regions as independent - a step only followed by Nicaragua - but Georgia insists they are an inseparable part of its territory.
The report comes just one day after Moscow forced Europe's OSCE security and human rights watchdog to wrap up its observer mission in Georgia. Russia said it would not support the continuation of the OSCE mandate unless the Vienna-based body established separate missions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, independent of its Tbilisi office.
The OSCE is made up of 56 states from Europe, Central Asia and North America. Russia was the only country to vote against the proposal to prolong the organisation’s mission in Georgia, which has been in place since 1992. Because the OSCE operates by consensus, Russia was able to impose a veto.
Diplomats said the veto reflected Moscow’s contempt for the watchdog, which it sees as a Western-manipulated body. Russia has not allowed OSCE monitors into South Ossetia since the conflict ended in August. Georgia says Russia is seeking to hide war crimes from the international community.
Date created : 2008-12-23