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Legal heads of breakaway regions questioned

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, November 24
The de jure leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were questioned by the Parliamentary Commission investigating the August conflict in Georgia on November 22.

Dmitry Sanakoev and Malkhaz Akishbaia mainly gave evidence about their activities during the Russian-Georgian conflict. Sanakoev, head of the Tbilisi-backed administration in South Ossetia, confirmed official Tbilisi’s statements about the separatist South Ossetian authorities conducting numerous provocations prior to the start of the military actions on August 8. He said that the separatists began to escalate tensions in June 2008. Sanakoev also said that from spring onwards “the separatist authorities intensified the setting up of posts and the digging of entrenchments” close to the administrative border between Georgian and South Ossetia. He mentioned that the Russian troops which conducted a peacekeeping mission in that region made “no reaction” to the actions of the de facto authorities.

Dmitry Sanakoev also confirmed that Georgian villages located in the region were put under the heavy fire by the Ossetian side from the beginning of August. “Russian military units were already deployed in the Java district [in South Ossetia] on August 1-2,” he said. The reason given by the Georgian Government for the start of the military operation was the defence of Georgian villages in the separatist-controlled districts of South Ossetia. He also revealed some information concerning the activity of Russia’s representatives in separatist South Ossetia before he himself left de facto Government he had once run. “The roots of the conflict were in 2004. I myself witnessed Russian military instructors in Tskhinvali training militias there, and those military instructors telling them [the militias] that it was necessary to create genocide in order to gain recognition [of independence]. Genocide requires the death of 5-6,000 persons. We could not understand then why we needed to die in order to be recognized. The training and armament of all these militias were financed by the Russian budget,” said Sanakoev. He added that Tbilisi “did its best to settle the problem without the use of force, however this [a peaceful decision] was unacceptable for the Tskhinvali totalitarian authorities.”

Before 2001 Dmitry Sanakoev was the Prime Minister of the separatist Government of South Ossetia. After a change of regime in the breakaway region he left the de facto Government and later began to cooperate with the Georgian authorities, being appointed head of the Tbilisi-backed Temporary Administration of South Ossetia.

Merab Akishbaia, leader of the Abkhazian de jure Government, informed the Commission of the reasons which kept him from being in Kodori Gorge during the war. He said that at the start of the conflict he was in Tbilisi, but on August 8 he travelled to western Georgia on his way to the upper Kodori Gorge. However, he then decided to go instead to Batumi, in the Adjara Autonomous Republic. Akishbaia said that he had done this for security reasons, as it was unsafe to take a night trip on the road to Kodori. “I decided I would go to the gorge next day. I got as far as Zugdidi, but again failed to depart for the gorge for two reasons: one of our employees died that day in Zugdidi and one of our vehicles crashed in an accident; so we could not leave for upper Kodori Gorge on August 8,” Akishbaia said. He then said that on August 10 at 7am he was informed from Kodori via phone that the gorge was being shelled. “Then the shelling became intensive,” he said, adding that his departure was again hindered. Abkhazian militia then began a large scale attack on the gorge, which made the population and soldiers positioned there retreat.

When asked if he knew who ordered the retreat from Kodori Gorge, Akishbaia responded: “A representative of the Interior Ministry [on the ground in the gorge] ordered a civilian evacuation on August 9.” However he noted that it was not a formal order but “a verbal agreement” between the Interior Ministry official and an official from the de jure Abkhazian authority. He confirmed that he did not know the exact position of the official of the Interior Ministry who started the evacuation. After this statement the Chair of the Commission, Paata Davitaia, announced that the rest of the questioning would be conducted behind closed doors.

Kodori was the only part of Abkhazia controlled by the central Government, but this control was lost after an invasion by Russian backed Abkhazian militia in August while the conflict in South Ossetia was going on. Kodori was also where the residence of the Tbilisi-backed Abkhazian Government-in-Exile, headed by Akishbaia, was located.