Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

2,000 dead and 30,000 homeless as war in Caucasus intensifies

Putin condemns 'genocide' as eyewitnesses claim South Ossetia's capital is destroyed. Moscow missiles kill dozens in Georgia's frontline city as peace effort gets under way

A South Ossetian woman and her boy, who fled from the fighting in their homeland, wait in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz for a bus to take them to a refugee camp on the Black Sea on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
A South Ossetian woman and her boy, who fled from the fighting in their homeland, wait in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz for a bus to take them to a refugee camp on the Black Sea on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Soldiers sit on top a Russian tank at a street in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Osetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. Russia expanded its bombing blitz Sunday against tiny neighbour Georgia, a U.S. ally, targeting the country's capital for the first time. Heavy Russian shelling also forced Georgian troops to pull out of the capital of the contested province of South Ossetia.
Burned tanks are seen at a street in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Damaged houses are seen at a street in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Burning house is seen in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Silhouettes of Russian soldiers are seen in front a burning building in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
A photo showing what Georgian authorities claim is the debris of a Russian bomber that they allege was shot down near the village of Dzevera some 100 km (62 miles) from Tbilisi, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008.
A photo showing what Georgian authorities claim is the debris of a Russian bomber that they allege was shot down near the village of Dzevera some 100 km (62 miles) from Tbilisi, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008.
Georgian refugees from villages near Tskhinvali block a highway outside a Georgian parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008, trying to attract the attention of authorities to their problems.
A photo showing what Georgian authorities claim is the debris of a Russian bomber that they allege was shot down near the village of Dzevera some 100 km (62 miles) from Tbilisi, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008.
A Russian APC passes an undisclosed location in the breakaway Georgian enclave of South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Wounded Ossetians lie in the basement of a destroyed hospital in the town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave of South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Pope Benedict XVI, background center, delivers his message during the Sunday noon Angelus prayer in Bressanone,Italy, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. The Pontiff urged an "immediate'' end to hostilities in South Ossetia and the start of negotiations between Russia and Georgia over the contested province.
Abkhazians aim a heavy multiple rocket launcher at a border of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. Separatist authorities in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia mobilized the army and called up reservists Sunday to drive Georgian government forces out of the small part of the province still under Georgian control. Russia expanded its bombing blitz Sunday against tiny neighbor Georgia, a U.S. ally, targeting the country's capital for the first time. Heavy Russian shelling also forced Georgian troops to pull out of the capital of the contested province of South Ossetia.
Russian Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. Nogovitsyn claims that Russian warplanes only targeted Georgian lines of supply and didn't hit civilian targets.
South Ossetia separatist fighters rest near an armored vehicle in the town of Dzhava, South Ossetia, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008.
A man claiming to be Igor Zinov, a Russian Air Force pilot injured when his plane was shot by Georgian forces near the town of Gori, just outside South Ossetia, is seen in a hospital in Tbilisi, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. Georgia said it has shot down 10 Russian planes, including four brought down Saturday. Russia confirmed Saturday that two its planes had been downed, but did not say where or when.
Wounded Ossetians lie in a basement of a destroyed hospital in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Osetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Ossetian soldiers sit at a position near a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Osetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Ossetian soldiers walk on a road near a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Osetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Activists of the Kremlin-backed youth movements and other groups, dance as they rally against Georgia's military offensive on the breakaway province of South Ossetia, in front of the Georgian Embassy in Moscow, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
A wounded Ossetian lies in the basement of a destroyed hospital in the town of Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway Georgian enclave of South Ossetia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008.
Abkhazians aim a heavy multiple rocket launcher at a border of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, in this image made from television Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. Russia expanded its bombing blitz Sunday against tiny neighbor Georgia, a U.S. ally, targeting the country's capital for the first time. Heavy Russian shelling also forced Georgian troops to pull out of the capital of the contested province of South Ossetia.
Russian First Channel claims these are burning Georgian armored vehicles are seen in Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian breakaway region of Georgia on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
Georgian soldiers stand at their positions in the ethnic Georgian village of Ergneti, on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008. Six people died in fighting that broke out late Friday and early Saturday, including sniper and mortar fire between South Ossetian and Georgian forces. The breakaway republic of South Ossetia split from Georgia in the early 1990's after a brief but violent conflict. (AP Photo/George Abdaladze)
An unidentified fighter jet drops munitions near the Georgian town of Gori, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
A column of Russian armored vehicles, headed towards the breakaway republic of South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali, is seen in North Ossetia, Russia, Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
Local residents look at a Russian armored vehicle heading towards the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
South Ossetia residents look out from the window of a vehicle as they are evacuated from the breakaway Georgia's province of Russia, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
A Russian armored vehicle is seen through a car windscreen, in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, near the capital Tskhinvali, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
In this image, made from television screen, tanks of of South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian enclave, readied for possible action against Georgian troops, in South Ossetia,on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Georgian troops launched a major military offensive Friday to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia, prompting a furious response from Russia , which vowed retaliation and sent tanks into the region. Dozens were reported dead. (AP Photo/NTV Russian Channel) ** TV OUT **
In this image, made from a television screen, soldiers of South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian enclave, armed with shoulder-launched missiles, are seen ready for action against Georgian planes, in South Ossetia,on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Georgian troops launched a major military offensive Friday to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia, prompting a furious response from Russia , which vowed retaliation and sent tanks into the region. Dozens were reported dead. (AP Photo/NTV Russian Channel) ** TV OUT **
In this image, made from television Russian, self-propelled guns moving towards the breakaway South Ossetia republic's capital, Tskhinvali, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Russia's Defense Ministry says it has sent reinforcements to its peacekeepers deployed to South Ossetia to help end bloodshed. Georgian officials confirmed that the Russian convoy had crossed the border and was advancing toward Tskhinvali. Georgia launched a massive attack Friday to regain control over South Ossetia, using heavy artillery, aircraft and armor. South Ossetian officials said at least 15 people were killed Friday and an unspecified number were wounded. (AP Photo/APTN) ** TV OUT **
In this image, made from television, Russian military vehicles are moving towards the breakaway South Ossetia republic's capital, Tskhinvali, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Russia's Defense Ministry says it has sent reinforcements to its peacekeepers deployed to South Ossetia to help end bloodshed. Georgian officials confirmed that the Russian convoy had crossed the border and was advancing toward Tskhinvali. Georgia launched a massive attack Friday to regain control over South Ossetia, using heavy artillery, aircraft and armor. South Ossetian officials said at least 15 people were killed Friday and an unspecified number were wounded. (AP Photo/APTN) ** TV OUT **
In this image, made from television, Russian tanks are moving towards the breakaway South Ossetia republic's capital, Tskhinvali, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Russia's Defense Ministry says it has sent reinforcements to its peacekeepers deployed to South Ossetia to help end bloodshed. Georgian officials confirmed that the Russian convoy had crossed the border and was advancing toward Tskhinvali. Georgia launched a massive attack Friday to regain control over South Ossetia, using heavy artillery, aircraft and armor. South Ossetian officials said at least 15 people were killed Friday and an unspecified number were wounded. (AP Photo/APTN) ** TV OUT **
South Ossetian separatist government forces seen at their positions in the breakaway republic's capital, Tskhinvali, in this image made from television, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008
A convoy of Russian tanks moving towards Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian Georgian enclave on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
A convoy of Russian tanks moving towards Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian Georgian enclave on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili addresses the nation from Tbilisi on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
In this image, made from television screen, what Russian First Channel claims - are burning Georgian armored vehicles are seen in Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian breakaway region of Georgia on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
Russian Channel 1 claims this is a convoy of Georgian troops moving towards Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian enclave in Georgia on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
In this image from NTV video footage, broadcasted on Thursday Aug. 7, 2008, soldiers of South Ossetia, breakaway Georgian enclave, take a position near Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian breakaway Georgian enclave .
In this picture made off APTN video footage, Georgian multiple rocket launchers are seen at a position south of Tskhinvali, Friday morning, Aug. 8, 2008.
South Ossetia's president, Eduard Kokoity speaks to the media in the breakaway province capital, Tskhinvali, in this image made from television, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008.

As many as 2,000 people may have been killed and 30,000 made homeless as the chaotic conflict between Georgian and Russian forces in the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia entered its second bloody day.

Georgia's parliament approved a state of war across the country for the next 15 days, while also calling for a ceasefire. The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said that there would be no talks until Georgian troops left the conflict zone. And, in what could be a second front, Abkhazia, another pro-Russian enclave in Georgia, said its forces had begun an operation to drive out Tbilisi's forces.



The situation on the ground in South Ossetia, most of whose population are ethnic Russians, remained highly confused. Russia said it had seized South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, but Georgia denied this. Russia, which sent in tanks to back the South Ossetians, said its forces had "liberated" the enclave's capital, but Georgia responded that Tskhinvali was under its "complete control".



A Russian journalist said Tskhinvali had been badly damaged. "The town is destroyed. There are many casualties, many wounded," Zaid Tsarnayev told Reuters. Russian jets carried out up to five raids on mostly military targets around the Georgian town of Gori, close to the conflict zone in South Ossetia. But some missiles went astray, killing at least a dozen people. A woman knelt in the street and screamed over the body of a dead man, as a bombed apartment block burned nearby.



Russia said two of its warplanes had been shot down, 13 of its soldiers killed and 70 wounded. The Georgians said the Russian jets had targeted the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that carries oil to Turkey, but had so far failed to damage it. It was difficult to know if this was a statement of fact, or an attempt to garner sympathy and support from the West.



The casualty tolls were also much confused. Russia's figure of 2,000 dead and 30,000 homeless was largely supported by South Ossetian leaders, who said that about 1,400 had died there since Friday. Georgia said only 129 people had been killed, but this is believed to refer only to the death toll for the town of Gori. UN officials put the number of refugees from South Ossetia at between 2,400 and 5,000.



The conflict began when Russian troops poured into South Ossetia on Friday, hours after Georgia launched an offensive aimed at restoring control over the separatist province.



In Tbilisi, people were nervous but defiant. Most supported their leadership but had been shocked by the Russian reaction. "To fight Russia is crazy," said Giga Kvenetadze, 30, a music studio owner. "But I do support [Georgia's President, Mikheil] Saakashvili. And what Russia is doing is wrong. They must stop."



The war of words at the highest levels was no less intense. Mr Saakashvili said in Tbilisi: "Russia has launched a full-scale military invasion of Georgia." The US President, George Bush, said Russian attacks on Georgia marked a "dangerous escalation" of the crisis and urged Moscow to halt the bombing. In a phone call with Mr Bush, according to a Kremlin statement, Mr Medvedev "stressed that the only way out of the tragic crisis provoked by the Georgian leadership is a withdrawal by Tbilisi of its armed formations from the conflict zone". The Russian foreign ministry also charged that Ukraine, whose pro-Western government is seeking membership of Nato and the EU, had encouraged Georgia to carry out "ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia.



The Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who arrived in the North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz last night, accused Georgia of committing "genocide", seeking "bloody adventures", and trying to involve other countries in a military conflict in its separatist region of South Ossetia. "Georgia's aspiration to join Nato... is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures," he said.



Last night, a Western delegation was on its way to Georgia to try to broker a ceasefire. Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, announced the mission involving a group of officials from the EU, the US, Nato and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. But Western powers have little influence in South Ossetia.



Moves were afoot last night for the UN Security Council to convene a second emergency meeting in two days. But there is little sign that outside pressure can produce an end to the fighting, the bloodiest since South Ossetia won effective independence from Georgia in 1992.



But the crisis feeds directly into the rivalry between the US and the assertive, energy-rich Russia of Vladimir Putin and his successor, Mr Medvedev. Mr Bush has built close personal and ideological bonds with the Georgian President, strongly supporting the latter's efforts to have his country enter Nato.

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