South Ossetians flee cellars for safety in Russia
by Dmitry Solovyov / Reuters / August 11, 2008
JAVA, Georgia, Aug 11 (Reuters) – A safe haven in Russia was almost within sight for refugees from South Ossetia’s besieged capital on Monday as they waited in parched streets for buses to ferry them over the border. Java, between South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali and the border with Russian North Ossetia, has become a staging area for people fleeing cellars where they hid from Georgian shelling that Moscow says has nearly destroyed their city.
Some wearing only dressing gowns and sneakers, they fled Tskhinvali and surrounding villages carrying plastic bags of clothes and documents, and some scant food supplies. Some had walked down through the mountains and slept in forests to get to Java, where buses collected them for the journey to the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz. Russian artillery fired from Java’s outskirts as columns of tanks, armoured vehicles, howitzers and rocket launchers flowed in. South Ossetian men wielding Kalashnikov assault rifles and wearing flip-flops loitered in the shade.
“There is so much machinery flowing in from both sides. I am afraid the fighting will be so fierce there won’t be a house left standing,” said Zaira Slanova, aged 70, a retired engineer from Tskhinvali. She was waiting for her sister, aged 77, to join her in Java for the short ride to Vladikavkaz. Her children, who live in Moscow, had arranged transport over the border, she said.
Slanova said she had spent four days hiding in a cellar as Georgian troops shelled Tskhinvali. Two days into the siege, an elderly man was killed by a mortar on the street outside. “We all suffered two days from the terrible stench of putrefaction as he was decomposing in the scorching heat,” Slanova said. “So we just buried him on the spot where he died.”
“Putin Defends Us”
South Ossetia, which fought to break free from Georgian rule in 1991-92, maintains close ties with its Russian North Ossetia. Most of South Ossetia’s 70,000 people hold Russian citizenship, entitling them to Russian state benefits. South Ossetia’s affinity with Russia has been a thorn in the side of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who took power in a 2006 grassroots revolution. His aspirations to join NATO and promises to ensure territorial integrity have won support from Western governments.
“If Saakashvili stood in front of me, I would wish him eternal hell after what we have been through,” an elderly woman said, weeping in a Tskhinvali street as she recounted how she hid from Georgian bombardment in a cellar with her two terrified grandchildren. “Why is he trying to kill Ossetians? He should see with his own eyes what he has done with us. He would be ripped to bits on the streets if he ever came here.” As Georgian troops shelled the city, she said, her grandson screamed for “Uncle Putin” to save him. “Thank God the Russians have come,” she said. “It is getting better.”
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday criticised the West, saying it had mistaken the aggressors for victims in the conflict over South Ossetia. “Putin is our golden leader. He defends us and gives us food,” said 73-year-old Nadezhda Pliyeva, waiting in Java for a bus to Vladikavkaz after fleeing the village of Prinevi, 12 km from Tskhinvali.
Tengiz Khugayev, aged 45, a member of the South Ossetian rebel contingent dressed in camouflage uniform, was shuttling refugees between Java and the North Ossetian capital.
“One should understand that if we are cut off from Russia, we will have no future,” Khugayev said. “If Russia withdraws its troops from here, we won’t be able to do anything. Look, the Georgians laid waste to Tskhinvali in just one day. We will not survive without Russia.” (Additional reporting by Denis Sinyakov in Tskhinvali; Writing by Melissa Akin; Editing by Catherine Evans) [Go here for the original.]
Russians advance in west Georgia
Russian troops have entered Georgia from the breakaway region of Abkhazia, as the conflict between the two neighbours appears to be broadening.
Moscow said it had launched a raid on the town of Senaki to stop Georgia from attacking Russian forces in South Ossetia, another breakaway region.
And Georgian officials say Russian troops have captured the town of Gori, in central Georgia.
As the fighting continued, foreign envoys were pressing for a ceasefire.
Violence erupted in South Ossetia late last week when Georgia launched an overnight assault on the territory. [See more here.]
Georgian helicopters bomb S.Ossetia targets-witness
GORI, Georgia, Aug 11 (Reuters) – At least six Georgian attack helicopters bombed targets in the region around the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, a Reuters witness said.
The action appeared to countermand a Georgian declaration of an end to military activity over the separatist region.
The reporter said the helicopters flew from Georgia proper and attacked targets just over the de facto boundary with South Ossetia, sending dark smoke billowing into the air.
Russia had earlier accused Georgia of shelling Russian troops, which drove Georgian forces from Tskhinvali this week. (Reporting by Margarita Antidze) [Go here for the original.]
U.S. Military Aircraft flew Georgian troops from Iraq to deploy against Russians
It has been confirmed that US aircraft flew Georgian combat units on duty in Iraq back to Georgia. On Friday, August 8, General David Petraeus, the head US commander in Iraq said that US aircraft had started to fly some of Georgia’s 2,000 troops in Iraq back home to join the fight in the breakaway province of South Ossetia. “The flights are ongoing to redeploy the elements of the Georgian contingent so that they can deal with the security issues in their country,” General Petraeus told The Times in an interview at his office inside Baghdad’s Green Zone.
In a news report published today, August 11, msnbc recounted that Russian Prime Minister Putin criticized the United States for airlifting Georgian troops back home from Iraq on Sunday at Georgia’s request. “It’s a pity that some of our partners instead of helping are in fact trying to get in the way,” Putin said at a Cabinet meeting. “I mean among other things the United States airlifting Georgia’s military contingent from Iraq effectively into the conflict zone.” [See the article here.]
Georgia and Russia claim ‘mass arrests’
TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) — Both Georgia and Russia claim that ethnic Georgians and ethnic Russians are wrongly being detained in the conflict over South Ossetia.
Russian troops and their allies were making “mass arrests” of Georgian civilians in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia and were taking them to a local village, the Georgian government said in a statement.”According to the reliable information held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Russian servicemen and separatists carry out mass arrests of peaceful civilians of Georgian origin still remaining on the territory of the Tskhinvali region and subsequently concentrate them on the territory of the village of Kurta,” the government said on Monday.
The statement said Georgia was appealing to the world community and international humanitarian groups “to immediately take decisive and effective measures for the evacuation of this population from the conflict zone.”
The Russian government issued a statement on Monday by President Dmitry Medvedev denouncing “the enforced detention of Russian citizens in Georgia.”
He called that situation “unacceptable” and “in complete violation of international law.”
“The president also stressed that foreigners legally in Russia, including Georgian citizens, should not be subjected to any sort of discrimination and instructed the Ministry of Internal Affairs to keep this matter under its control.”