Wednesday, Oct 29, 2008
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has rejected reports by Britain’s BBC that his country’s troops were guilty of war crimes during Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia in August.
The BBC said late on Tuesday that its reporters in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali had uncovered evidence that “suggests Georgia used indiscriminate force, and may have targeted civilians.”
It also quoted witnesses who said tanks had fired into apartment blocks, and that civilians fleeing the fighting were shot down.
The Human Rights Watch group has said that a figure of 300-400 civilians killed by the “inappropriate use of force by Georgia against civilian targets” during the assault is a “useful starting point.” It has not alleged that Georgian soldiers targeted individual civilians.
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The rights group was particularly critical of the use of Grad rockets by Georgian troops in a built-up urban area.
Speaking on the BBC, Saakashvili said, “We strongly deny… accusation of war crimes – but of course, we are very open for any kind of comments, we are very open for any kind of investigation.”
He also claimed that “Russian troops” had shelled Tskhinvali “for several days.”
“There were certainly war crimes committed, certainly not by us,” he said.
The BBC report also spoke of the destruction of ethnic Georgia villages in South Ossetia in revenge attacks by local militia.
Georgia initially said that it had attacked the town of Tskhinvali due to the shelling of Georgian villages. It later said it was responding to the start of a Russian invasion of the republic. However, is not clear why in this case the Georgians would have bombarded Tskhinvali rather than the Russian forces allegedly coming through the Roksky tunnel, the only road link between Russia and South Ossetia.
Russia says Georgian troops were responsible for atrocities during their August 7-8 attack on breakaway republic and has accused Georgia of the attempted “genocide” of the South Ossetian people.
Responding to the BBC’s claims, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who has backed Georgia throughout the crisis, admitted that Tbilisi’s actions were “reckless.”
“I think the Georgian action was reckless, I think the Russian response was disproportionate and wrong,” he told the BBC.
Russian politicians have repeatedly accused Western media outlets of bias in their coverage of the five-day conflict, and many Western powers of hypocrisy.
Russian political commentators have pointed out that the Georgian attack on South Ossetia, which led to Russia’s operation to “force Georgia to peace,” was barely mentioned in mainstream Western media reports on the war, and that Russia was portrayed as the sole aggressor in the conflict. Reports in the Russian media have also claimed that CNN broadcast footage of South Ossetia after the attack on the republic as ‘evidence’ of Russian bombing raids in the Georgian city of Gori.
The majority of residents in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian republic, have had Russian citizenship for a number of years, and Russia stepped up its support of separatists in both republics after Kosovo’s sovereignty was recognized by the majority of Western powers earlier this year.
After the attack on Tskhinvali, during which a number of Russian peacekeepers were also killed, Russia launched a military operation to “force Georgia to peace.” Its response was labeled “disproportionate” by the West.
Russia recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states on August 26. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the move was “the only way to protect people’s lives.” Western powers called the decision unacceptable.
This article was posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 5:11 am