Ethnic violence surges in South Ossetia

August 18th, 2008 - 9:21 am ICT by IANS  

By Alissa de Carbonnel
Tskhinvali/Gori (Georgia), Aug 18 (DPA) Behind the lines of the Russian troops controlling the Georgian separatist region of South Ossetia, ethnic enclaves have been torn apart by revenge killings and looting. Along the road from the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali most of the houses are charred and gates and doors left open by looters. Returning residents said houses were still burning.

Russian soldiers are camped on freshly painted basketball courts - the only things not burnt in what had been one of the most wealthy parts of the region of 70,000 inhabitants.

Fatima Gazeyeva, 42, saw the house of her former dentist burning when she returned to the capital Friday. “It’s the second time. It burnt first in 1991 but then he came back to rebuild it.”

The first burning was during the war of secession fought between Georgia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s.

“I went to see him three months ago by taking the detour road because peacekeepers’ checkpoints already wouldn’t let us through.”

Residents taking stock of their devastated capital after days of cowering in their cellars were too angry to forgive.

“There is no way on earth that we could live with the Georgians again, even him,” Fatima said, referring to the dentist. “There are so many dead. It’s over between us.”

Several irregular volunteer fighters told DPA that they were undertaking “ethnic cleansing” of Georgian hamlets in the breakaway region.

Houses were burning in Georgian villages and looters breaking into empty homes.

“We are not politicians, but we know we don’t need the Georgians … we are cleansing them like mines,” one irregular fighter, Vadim Farnyev, 25, said on his way back to his native Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia after fighting across the border in Georgia.

“I didn’t kill anybody,” he added. The other fighters laughed and clapped him on the back.

Russian soldiers are aware of revenge killings, but “we can’t be here, there, everywhere,” said Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Vobrum of the Russian 58th Army in Georgian town of Gori.

The bodies of Georgian soldiers, naked or half dressed in civilian clothes, are decomposing along the road to Gori.

“Ossetians aren’t going to bury them, right? It’s not their dead,” the colonel said.

Two Western photographers said they had seen elderly Georgian men with their hands tied behind their backs being brought from the Ossetian interior ministry building at night to clear the streets.

In Gori, Russian soldiers and emergency ministry officials unloaded elderly and invalid Georgians from South Ossetia.

Old men and women, hunched and unable to walk, were carried by Russian soldiers into a boarding school and placed in child-size beds with rose-coloured sheets.

“The Russians are helping us a lot,” said Vardo Kopadze, 74, who was evacuated from the Georgian enclave of Khathabedti near the South Ossetian capital.

She said an Ossetian looter looking for weapons shot dead her 84-year-old husband Giorgi Monday.

“He spoke with us in Russian, but I’m sure he wasn’t Russian. He was very dark skinned,” she said.

Vardo’s frail neighbour, Alexei Chalaidzhe, 76, said he buried Giorgi in the yard.

“I slept with fear afterwards and then … demons were flying at me.”

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