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War Commission questions two regional Governors

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, November 12
The Temporary Parliamentary Commission studying the August events has questioned the Governors of Samegrelo and Shida Kartli, the two regions most directly affected by the Russian-Georgian conflict.

The Governor of Samegrelo, Zaza Gorozia, told the Commission that he had no information about the possible intervention of Russian forces into the region. He said that he had attended the meeting of regional Governors with the Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili on August 7, however, he said the main focus of the meeting was on South Ossetia and not Samegrelo, as no escalation of the situation was expected there.

Gorozia told the Commission that General of the Russian forces Ustinov had contacted him on August 10 and asked him to arrange a meeting with the head of the Police Department of the region. At the same time, Gorozia said, head of Russian Peacekeeping forces Chaban had requested to meet the Governor. Gorozia said Chaban told him at the meeting that they intended to enter Zugdidi district to take control of the 12 km security zone – the area within the Russian peacekeepers’ zone of responsibility. Gorozia said that despite his attempts to resist this move, he had to eventually agree to their demands in order not to endanger the local population, because, as Gorozia said, he had been informed that the Russians had more forces ready to deploy in Zugdidi in case of a refusal. The Samegrelo Governor said that the Russians then broke the initial agreement and moved their forces beyond the security zone, occupying almost the whole Samegrelo region.

The Commission members were interested in the current condition of the Senaki Military Base, which was bombed and looted by Russian troops in August. Gorozia said that Senaki Military Base had not suffered that much damage, and promised to give the details at the closed-door session of the Commission.

Lado Vardzelashvili, the Governor of Shida Kartli, a region bordering breakaway South Ossetia, talked about the details of the civilian evacuation from the town of Gori and its adjacent villages. He told the Commission that no written evacuation plan, worked out in advance, existed, because, as he said, there had been no need for such plan, as nobody had expected military actions in the region. Vardzelashvili said that after the first bombardment of Gori on August 8, which caused civilian casualties, “we understood that evacuation was needed.” Vardzelashvili noted that he was acting according his own plan of how to evacuate the population from the Georgian villages.

The Shida Kartli Governor denied allegations that he had been distributing weapons to reservists, saying that he was busy with civilian issues and did not interfere in the work of the General Staff of the Defence Ministry in Gori. Vardzelashvili said that during his conversations with Deputy Commander of the Russian troops Maj. Gen. Borisov, who, according to the Shida Kartli Governor, was “almost always drunk,” Borisov used to say that Russia was trying to achieve a change of Government in Georgia and the capture of President Saakashvili.

The War Commission has already questioned several Government officials, including the Intelligence Chief and Foreign Minister, as well as Senior MoD officials and the National Security Chief. The Commission is planning to hear testimony from former Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze and Tbilisi City Mayor Gigi Ugulava on Wednesday. President Saakashvili has also expressed a readiness to testify before the Commission. The Georgian media has reported that the Commission will hold Saakashvili’s hearing by the end of December.