Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia continues invasion of Georgia

The Associated Press has a report on Russia's continued invasion of Georgia. Russian forces are occupying two cities in South Ossetia, and have destroyed Georgian military hardware.

Besides the hundreds killed since hostilities broke out, the United Nations estimates 100,000 Georgians have been uprooted; Russia says some 30,000 residents of South Ossetia fled into the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia.

Russian troops also appeared to be settling in elsewhere in Georgia outside the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.

The US and UK have firmly opposed Russia's invasion. That said, this is a complex issue, with Russia claiming that it is Georgia which engaged in ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia.

"The Russian troops are here. They are occupying," Ygor Gegenava, an elderly Zugdidi resident told the APTN crew. "We don't want them here. What we need is friendship and good relations with the Russian people."

Georgia, bordering the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

A steady, dejected trickle of Georgian refugees fled the front line in overloaded cars, trucks and tractor-pulled wagons, heading to Tbilisi on the road from Gori. One Soviet-era car carried eight people, including a mother and a baby in the front seat. The open back door of a small blue van revealed at least a dozen people crowded inside.

The Russian General Prosecutor's office on Thursday said it has formally opened a genocide probe into Georgian treatment of South Ossetians. For its part, Georgia this week filed a suit against Russia in the International Court of Justice, alleging murder, rape and mass expulsions in both provinces.

More homes in deserted ethnic Georgian villages were apparently set ablaze Wednesday, sending clouds of smoke over the foothills north of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway South Ossetia.

One Russian colonel, who refused to give his name, blamed the fires on looters.

Those with ethnic Georgian backgrounds who have stayed behind — like 70-year-old retired teacher Vinera Chebataryeva — seem increasingly unwelcome in South Ossetia.

As she stood sobbing in her wrecked apartment near the center of Tskhinvali, Chebataryeva said a skirmish between Ossetian soldiers and a Georgian tank had gouged the two gaping shell holes in her wall, bashing in her piano and destroying her furniture.

Janna Kuzayeva, an ethnic Ossetian neighbor, claimed the Georgian tank fired the shell at Chebataryeva's apartment.

"We know for sure her brother spied for Georgians," said Kuzayeva. "We let her stay here, and now she's blaming everything on us."

North of Tskhinvali, a number of former Georgian communities have been abandoned in the last few days. "There isn't a single Georgian left in those villages," said Robert Kochi, a 45-year-old South Ossetian.

But he had little sympathy for his former Georgian neighbors. "They wanted to physically uproot us all," he said. "What other definition is there for genocide?"

Even so, there is no justification for an outright invasion. Russia should withdraw immediately. It is not Russia's place to settle this issue with arms.

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