GEORGIA

South Ossetia marks anniversary of Russia-Georgia conflict

South Ossetia commemorated the Russia-Georgia war with a candle-light vigil on empty artillery shells in Tskhinvali. The rebel province also opened a war museum on Saturday to mark the conflict's first anniversary.

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AFP - South Ossetia opened a war museum Saturday and President Dmitry Medvedev visited a base in southern Russia as part of events to mark the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war.

Ceremonies in Tskhinvali began late Friday with a candle-light vigil shortly before midnight, the time when Georgian forces launched an assault on the breakaway Russia-backed region that triggered the conflict.

Hundreds of people gathered around a fountain on the main square in Tskhinvali, the rebel province's main city, where they placed candles on empty artillery shells.

Images of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, interspersed with pictures of destroyed homes and elderly women in tears, were projected on a giant screen in the square while musicians played melancholy music.

Eduard Kokoity, leader of South Ossetia addressed the crowd and said Georgia bore all the blame for the conflict.

"The goal of the operation was the destruction and exile of the South Ossetian people," Kokoity said.

"South Ossetian fighters courageously thwarted Tbilisi's plans for blitzkrieg. Russian troops came to the rescue of South Ossetia and pushed the bloodthirsty enemy back," he said.

The conflict began in the night of August 7 when Georgian forces launched an attack on South Ossetia. Russian troops responded with a fierce counter-offensive using land and air forces that crushed the Georgian army.

An EU-brokered ceasefire ended the conflict five days later. Russian forces withdrew to within South Ossetia and another rebel Georgian region, Abkhazia.

In Georgia proper, commemorative ceremonies were held Friday, reflecting continuing disputes over everything from who started the war to when it actually began.

Among the events in Tskhinvali on Saturday, the wreckage of a home destroyed in the conflict was used for the inauguration of a "genocide museum" documenting some of the horror in South Ossetia last year.

Speaking at a military base in southern Russia meanwhile, Medvedev said that Saakashvili would sooner or later face "severe retribution" for last year's war.

"I am certain that in time just and severe punishment, severe retribution, will come to those people who issued the criminal orders," to attack South Ossetia, he said in remarks shown on Russian state television.

Speaking at a military base in southern Russia, Medvedev also warned a new conflict in the volatile Caucasus region could not be ruled out due to recent actions by Georgia.

The Russian president implicitly lashed out at the United States for aiding Tbilisi to re-arm.

"I am convinced that it is well known who armed and who, unfortunately, is continuing to arm the Tbilisi regime," he said.

His comments came after a Russian deputy foreign minister earlier this week accused the United States of quietly helping Georgia re-arm and of stoking tension in the strategic Caucasus.
 

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