Georgia started last year's five-day war with Russia by attacking rebel South Ossetia, an investigating team compiling an EU-ordered report has concluded. The report also blamed Russia for violating international law.
AFP - Georgia sparked a five-day war with Russia last year by attacking rebel South Ossetia, an investigating team said Wednesday, but it also blamed Russia for violating international law.
"In the mission's view, it was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked Tskhinvali (in South Ossetia) with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August, 2008," the head of the fact-finding mission said.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has long insisted that the attack in South Ossetia was launched after Russian tanks moved into the breakaway region.
"None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation," said the team head, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavina.
"In particular, there was no massive Russian military invasion under way, which had to be stopped by Georgian military forces shelling Tskhinvali," she added in a statement to coincide with a report of some 1,000 pages.
But the 19-member investigating team, commissioned last December to look into the causes of the five-day war, also found evidence that Russia had fomented tensions.
"The Russian side, too, carries the blame for a substantial number of violations of international law," said Tagliavina.
She said Moscow's actions included conferring Russian citizenship en masse to people living in South Ossetia and the other separatist region, Abhkazia.
She said Russia had broken international law in that "the military action by the Russian Armed Forces on Georgian territory, (was) far beyond the needs of a proportionate defense of Russian Peace Keepers in Tskhinvali."
Russia's later recognition of the independence of both rebel regions "must be considered as being not valid in the context of international law, and as violations of Georgia´s territorial integrity and sovereignty," she said.
The investigators also found evidence that both sides had been involved in ethnic cleansing against Georgians and their villages and settlements in South Ossetia.
Despite the findings, both Russia and Georgia welcomed Wednesday the report, saying that it vindicated their actions.
Moscow's ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said the findings provided "unequivocal confirmation of who started the war -- it was Georgia."
He told reporters in Brussels that the findings were further evidence that Georgian President Saakashvili should step down.
"I think Mr Saakashvili should have resigned a long time ago," he said.
Georgia, for its part, said the report was proof that Russia had invaded Georgia, violating its territorial integrity.
"The allegations of my country have been proven. It was Georgia which came under invasion from another country, in violation of the international law," its ambassador to the EU, Salome Samadashvili, told reporters.
Date created : 2009-09-30