Ossetians “running wild” in Akhalgori
By Salome Modebadze
Friday, November 28On November 25 Human Rights Watch reported that South Ossetian militias are attacking natives of Akhalgori district, which has been controlled by Russian and South Ossetian troops since the August war. HRW called on the Russian authorities to guarantee that the local population is able to move freely to and from other parts of Georgia.
“South Ossetian militias are running wild, attacking ethnic Georgians in Akhalgori. It is high time Russia stepped up to its responsibilities as an occupying power in South Ossetia and reined them in,” Tanya Lokshina, Deputy Director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said.
Russian and Ossetian forces entered the district on August 17 and Russian forces maintain two military bases in Akhalgori. According to the HRW report, as an occupying power Russia should guarantee the security and welfare of civilians in the area.
Human Rights Watch researchers visited the village, located in the eastern part of South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia now under Russian and South Ossetian control, on November 20-21. The researchers interviewed ethnic Georgians who expressed their worries about being chased and harassed by armed South Ossetian militia. There have been several cases of local people being attacked without good reason.
Akhalgori hospital medical personnel told Human Rights Watch that in early November they treated an elderly resident of Kanchaveti village. The man had been grazing his sheep when several armed men started beating him as he tried to resist them. Bleeding, with multiple bruises and other injuries, he was transferred to Tbilisi but unfortunately died. The man’s relatives told HRW that they had been threatened with being shot if they didn’t give the militia a cow.
The South Ossetian police confirmed several instances of the beating of ethnic Georgians for reasons such as having Mikheil Saakashvili’s photo on their wall to HRW. “Russian forces have to intervene to stop this violence and intimidation,” Lokshina said. “The security of the civilian population depends on their being able to communicate with the rest of the world.”
Nika Chitadze, a political analyst, commented on the present situation in Akhalgori. “The problem of Akhalgori can’t be settled in a few months. It’s a big issue connected with the Russian-Georgian conflict. International intervention will play an important part in the regulation of those problems. Akhalgori, the former Leningori, has been an historical part of South Ossetia. Thus the militia won’t leave it, but of course they shouldn’t oppress innocent people and should instead defend their rights,” he noted.
During the August war, South Ossetian militias burned and looted most ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia, effectively preventing 20,000 residents displaced by the conflict from returning. This is inconsistent with both the principles and written clauses of the ceasefire agreement that ostensibly ended the conflict, which Russia signed and is therefore bound to implement.