News & Current Affairs

August 16, 2008

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russian troops

Moscow’s troops continue to operate deep inside the Caucasus republic

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a ceasefire agreement with Georgia after receiving it in Moscow.

The deal calls for all military activity to stop and for troops from both sides to pull back into pre-conflict positions.

The deal was signed on Friday by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

But Russian forces remain deep in Georgian territory, and correspondents say many obstacles remain in the way of full implementation of the peace deal.

At stake is the future of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US-backed Georgia has vowed it will not accept any loss of its territory, but Russia insists that following the recent violence, residents are unlikely to want to live in the same state as Georgians.

The crisis, which began nine days ago, saw Georgian forces launch a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, only to be decisively repelled by Russian forces.

Russian ‘advances’

On the ground in Georgia, Russian forces had moved forward overnight.

Russian forces still control Gori, which lies some 15km (10 miles) from the border with South Ossetia.

Several tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen in Kaspi, west of Gori and some 35km north-east of the capital Tbilisi – an advance of some 15km on their previous position. Lorries of soldiers were seen heading towards the town.

Meanwhile, Russian troops were seen patrolling in Zestafoni, some 100km west of Gori along a major highway.

The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries… They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities
Mikhail Saakashvili
Georgian president

Georgian officials also said Russian forces remained in the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, the site of a major oil shipment facility, and a major Russian military contingent is further inland, at Senaki.

The crisis began on 7 August, when Georgian forces launched a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1992.

The move followed days of exchanges of heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatist militias. In response to the Georgian assault, Moscow sent armoured units across the border into South Ossetia to intervene.

Obstacles ahead

Scores of people have been killed by the fighting and tens of thousands displaced.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

The EU-brokered ceasefire agreement which both sides have now signed includes a pledge to pull all troops back to their pre-conflict positions.

It also contains a plan to begin international talks about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Tbilisi on Friday, has demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgian territory.

But Russia argues its forces are there to ensure civilians face no threat from Georgian troops.

Mr Saakashvili has accused the Russians of committing war crimes.

A displaced Georgian woman rests just outside the town of Gori (15/08/08)

The UN puts the number of those displaced in the conflict at 118,000

“The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries,” he said. “They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities.”

He criticized the West for not granting Georgia membership of Nato, saying it could have prevented the fighting.

Diplomats have said that the UN Security Council is expected to vote this weekend on a draft resolution formalising the ceasefire agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will meet the Russian permanent representative in New York, possibly on Saturday, because he has so far been unable to contact the Russian president, officials have said.

‘Watching with alarm’

President Bush is set to hold a video conference with some of his most senior staff, including Ms Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, to discuss the crisis in Georgia.

George Bush (file)
President Bush said Russia had to act to end the crisis in Georgia

On Friday, Mr Bush said Russia’s actions in Georgia were “completely unacceptable”.

“The world has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people,” he said.

He called upon Russia to end the crisis or risk its credibility on the global stage.

Mr Bush said he would send his secretary of state to Brussels next week to discuss how to deal with Russia with Nato foreign ministers and EU officials.

But the president did not respond to comments from Russia’s deputy chief of staff, who said Moscow would be justified in launching a nuclear attack if Poland went through with its agreement to base US interceptor missiles on its territory as part of Washington’s controversial defence shield.

Map of region


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August 7, 2008

Bin Laden ex-driver found guilty

Bin Laden ex-driver found guilty

Sketch of Salim Hamdan by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the US Military

This was the first US war crimes trial since World War II

A US military jury at Guantanamo Bay has convicted Osama Bin Laden’s former driver of supporting terrorism.

The verdict on Salim Hamdan is the first to be delivered in a full war crimes trial at the US prison in Cuba.

The jury found Hamdan guilty of five of eight charges of supporting terrorism but acquitted him of two separate, more serious, charges of conspiracy.

A sentencing hearing is now under way. Hamdan, a Yemeni aged about 40, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The White House said the trial was fair and looked forward to more tribunals.

The defence team has said it plans to appeal, while rights groups have condemned the trial as unjust.

‘Vital role’

Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, was initially impassive when the verdict began to be read out. But the BBC’s Kim Ghattas, at the trial, said he later appeared to break down in tears.

HAMDAN CHARGES
Conspiracy:
Found not guilty on two counts of conspiring with al-Qaeda to attack civilians, destroy property and commit murder
Providing support for terrorism:
Found guilty on five counts, including being the driver and bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, a man he knew to be the leader of a terrorist group
Found not guilty on three other counts

Our correspondent says the defence team’s appeal could go as far as the Supreme Court.

One of the defence lawyers, Michael Berrigan, said: “Is material support a war crime? The defence believes it is not. That issue will go forward on appeal.”

The jury of six military officers had deliberated for about eight hours over three days in the first US war crimes trial since World War II.

The prosecution had said Hamdan played a “vital role” in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks. But defence lawyers said he was a low-level employee.

The BBC’s Adam Brookes in Washington says US President George W Bush will hope to use the conclusion of the first full trial as evidence that the Guantanamo Bay system does actually work.

In its first response, the White House said Hamdan had received a “fair trial”.

Spokesman Tony Fratto said: “The Military Commission system is a fair and appropriate legal process… We look forward to other cases moving forward to trial.”

However, defence lawyers had said they feared a guilty verdict was inevitable and that the system was geared to convict.

Rights group Amnesty International said the trial was “fundamentally flawed” and called for all the remaining military tribunals to be halted and for proceedings to be moved to civilian courts.

‘Guilt by association’

Hamdan had admitted working for Bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1997 to 2001 for $200 (£99) a month, but said he worked for wages, not to make war on the US.

Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay

The defence said the case was “guilt by association”.

But the prosecution said Hamdan was an “uncontrollably enthusiastic warrior” for al-Qaeda.

Prosecutor John Murphy had said: “He has wounded, and the people he has worked with have wounded, the world.”

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Among the dozens of other inmates due to be tried there in the coming months are men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

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