News & Current Affairs

August 14, 2008

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russian soldier near Gori, 13 August 2008

Russia insists its troops remain in Georgia for security purposes only

Russian troops have begun handing over control of the area around the town of Gori to Georgian security forces.

But a Russian general in the area said Moscow’s troops would remain nearby for several days to remove weaponry and help restore law and order in Gori.

Overnight the US secretary of state urged Moscow to meet its own pledge to pull troops out of Georgia altogether.

Georgia attacked the rebel region of South Ossetia from Gori a week ago and the town has remained a key flash point.

Russian troops occupied the town after they pushed Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, sparking a mass retreat from the city by Georgian troops and civilians.

Gori has also come under air attack, with reports of Russian planes bombing the town after Moscow declared an end to its military operation on Tuesday.

And Russia’s continued deployment of troops in Gori raised concerns that the Kremlin would not make a quick withdrawal from Georgian territory, despite agreeing to a European peace plan.

Safety ‘improved’

Moscow insists that the purpose of its continuing presence in Georgia proper is to hand over security to the Georgian police and to remove abandoned weapons and ammunition.

In Gori, I saw lorries full of bodies being delivered to the hostpial every day. So many people have died, why is the government lying?

Local residents reported feeling safe and secure on Wednesday night, our correspondent says, with Russian troops clearly in charge of the town.

The Russian general co-ordinating the return of Georgian police and security forces to Gori urged residents – many of whom left town as the Georgian army retreated on Monday – to return to their homes and re-open their shops, our correspondent adds.

Russian troops were allowing armed Georgian police back into the town, and would not leave until order is restored, Gen Vyacheslav Borisov said.

US steadfast

The Georgian government says that 175 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the conflict with Russia and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Russia, which says that 74 of its troops were killed, reports that more than 2,000 people died in South Ossetia, the vast majority civilians allegedly killed in the Georgian attack.

While none of the casualty figures have been verified independently, the UN refugee agency estimates that some 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, both from South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Both sides have accused each other of committing atrocities during the conflict, although little conclusive evidence has been found.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday night Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce, brokered by French and current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She spoke hours after Russian tanks were seen moving out of Gori on the main road to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Amid widespread concern the armored column eventually turned off the main road and troops began work to destroy or disable Georgian army bases.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” Ms Rice said later in Washington, before leaving on a diplomatic mission to France and Georgia.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.

And the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, told the BBC that the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus strengthened Georgia’s case to join the Nato alliance.

“Russia, a country with 30 times the population [of Georgia] decided to roll into its much smaller neighbour and tried to roll over it. It failed to roll over Georgia, but it would never have even thought of doing this if Georgia were already a member of Nato,” he said.

Map of region
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Philippine displaced begin return

Philippine displaced begin return

A family sit at an evacuation centre in Pikit town on 13 August 2008

Tens of thousands of families were forced to leave their homes

Troops defused a bomb at a bus station in the southern Philippines, as people displaced by fighting between troops and Muslim rebels began to return home.

About 160,000 villagers fled violence which began in early August, after a deal expanding a Muslim autonomous zone was blocked.

Separatist rebels then occupied several villages in North Cotabato province, triggering a military assault.

Operations ended a day ago, and troops are encouraging families to return.

“We expect a considerable number of people to return home today. Since late Wednesday they were slowly going back, we are assuring them of their safety,” an army spokesman, Lt-Col Julieto Ando, was quoted as saying.

But many people still feared for the lives and were reluctant to return, aid agencies said.

Early on Thursday, security personnel defused a bomb planted at a bus station at Kidapawan town in the center of the province.

A military spokesman said it was probably a retaliatory measure by the retreating rebels.

‘Tainted relationship’

A boy salvages belongings from the ashes of his home in Takepan, North Cotabato province, on Tuesday, after it was razed by retreating rebels

The violence began when a deal that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous zone in the south fell apart.

The agreement had angered many Christian communities, who appealed to the Supreme Court to block it pending further hearings.

Several hundred guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) then occupied 15 villages in North Cotabato – next to the autonomous zone.

The action triggered military air strikes and artillery assaults. At least two soldiers and more than two dozen rebels were killed.

Some of the tens of thousands of families who fled the fighting are now beginning to make their way back.

map

“The security situation has improved but it will probably take a bit of time before people feel secure enough to return home en masse,” Stephen Anderson, country director for the World Food Programme (WFP), told Reuters news agency.

“We have to be looking ahead to people having to potentially rebuild their lives – a lot of houses, villages have been destroyed.”

One local resident, whose house was looted, told the French news agency AFP that ties between Muslim and Christian communities would have to be rebuilt.

“The relationship has been tainted but our brother Muslims agreed we can rebuild it for the sake of our children.”

MILF rebels have been fighting for greater autonomy in the southern Philippines for almost four decades.

August 12, 2008

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters defying curfew in Srinagar on August 12 2008

Protests over land erupted in June

At least seven people were killed and many injured when security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir opened fire on  stone-throwing Muslim protesters.

Thousands defied a curfew in Srinagar and other towns in the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley for a second day. One person died in clashes in Jammu region.

The curfew was imposed ahead of the burial of a senior separatist who died after police opened fire on Monday.

Tensions are rising and threaten peace hopes after years of relative calm.

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says Kashmir has now become dangerously polarized, in a dispute which began over the control of a small piece of land.

Protests and counter-protests have been taking place for weeks in the Kashmir valley, and in the mainly Hindu region around the city of Jammu further south.

The demonstrations in the valley are some the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule broke out nearly 20 years ago.

‘Freedom’

Security forces opened fire on Tuesday on a number of protests by Muslims who defied the curfew.

If the blockade continues it will be a disaster for us
Mohammad Yousuf,
Kashmir Fruit Growers’ Association

The army fired to disperse a procession in the northern district of Bandipora, killing three people and injuring five. Three other people were killed in the Lasjan and Rainawari areas.

“We have imposed a curfew to ensure the peaceful burial of Sheikh Aziz,” local police chief Kuldeep Khuda told reporters.

In the Jammu region, one person was killed and more than a dozen injured after Hindus and Muslims clashed in the town of Kishtwar. Houses, vehicles and other property were damaged before police opened fire to restore order.

No other violence has been reported from the Jammu region.

Sheikh Aziz was a prominent leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella of separatist groups which opposes Indian rule.

His body has been kept in a mosque in Srinagar. Mourners have stayed with the body and shouted slogans like “We want freedom”.

The police said they were trying to find out why security forces opened fire on the protesters on Monday.

Police say several of their personnel were injured by stones thrown by those at the protest.

Pilgrims

Sheikh Aziz was among thousands of protesters who marched on Monday towards the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border with Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslim protester runs for cover as tear gas shell explode near them during a march in Srinagar 11 August

The violence is spreading

They were supporting fruit growers who wanted to sell their produce. Muslims say Hindus in the state are blockading a key highway that links the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

The government, which denies the blockade, says lorries are moving between the two regions with security escorts.

Hindus have protested for weeks since the authorities scrapped plans to transfer land to a Hindu trust.

With the highway blocked for days, the Muslim fruit growers have complained that their produce is rotting.

The land row started when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board to be used by Hindu pilgrims.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.

More than 20 people – Muslims and Hindus – have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with police since the unrest began.

August 8, 2008

Georgia offers rebels ceasefire

Georgia offers rebels ceasefire

Georgian troops are expected to observe a three-hour ceasefire to let civilians leave the besieged capital of separatist South Ossetia, say reports.

Georgia has launched a major offensive against rebel strongholds and claims to have surrounded the capital Tskhinvali.

Russia, who Georgia accuses of arming the rebels, has warned aggression would lead to retaliation from Moscow.

At least 15 civilians are said to have died as well as several Russian peacekeepers based in Tskhinvali.

Nato, the US and the European Union have all called for an immediate end to the hostilities.

This is very sad and very disturbing and, of course, this will provoke actions in response
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili called on reservists to sign up for duty and accused Russia of sending fighter jets to bomb Georgian towns – claims denied by Moscow.

Residents of Tskhinvali were reported to be sheltering in basements as massive explosions rocked the city. Both sides blamed each other for breaking a ceasefire on Thursday.

Georgia says the three-hour ceasefire would come into force from 1100GMT to allow civilians to leave Tskhinvali.

The international Red Cross had earlier said it wanted to see “humanitarian corridor” to the area to take in ambulances to retrieve wounded civilians.

ICRC spokeswoman Anna Nelson said they had received reports that hospitals in Tskhinvali were having trouble coping with the influx of casualties and ambulances were having trouble reaching the injured.

Sheltering

Irina Gagloyeva, a South Ossetian official in Tskhinvali, described the scene in the beseiged city overnight after the Georgian military action started.

SOUTH OSSETIA TIMELINE
1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories
2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum
April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up
7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire
8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close on Tskhinvali

“Virtually all the people of the city are in shelters, myself included. It started at midnight, and has barely stopped for a minute,” she told the BBC. “Can you hear? That’s rockets. All my windows have blown out. Thirty-five thousand residents of our capital have become the hostages of Georgian fascism.”

A spokesman for the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia told Interfax news agency that Georgian shells directly hit barracks in Tskhinvali, killing several peacekeepers.

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

“As soon as a durable peace takes hold we need to move forward with dialogue and peaceful negotiations,” he told reporters.

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have been trying to break away since the civil war in the 1990s. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

Russian passports

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev later convened his national security council and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a response to what he called Georgian aggression.

The defence ministry issued a statement saying: “We will not allow the peacekeepers and citizens of the Russian Federation to be hurt.”

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but has also said it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia are reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

Mr Saakashvili’s claims of Russian jets bombarding Georgian targets have been rejected by Russia and have not been independently confirmed.

China, where the Olympic Games opens on Friday, called for worldwide truce during the sporting event.

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia says its troops have surrounded the capital of separatist South Ossetia as Russia warns further aggression would lead to retaliation from Moscow.

Fighting around Tskhinvali resumed overnight, breaking a ceasefire deal, and bombardments are continuing.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili has called on reservists to sign up for duty and accused Russia of sending fighter jets to bomb Georgian towns.

At least 15 civilians are said to have died as well as several Russian troops.

Residents of Tskhinvali are reported to be sheltering in basements as massive explosions rock the city. Both sides blame each other for breaking the ceasefire.

This is very sad and very disturbing and, of course, this will provoke actions in response
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

A spokesman for the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia told Interfax news agency that Georgian shells directly hit barracks in Tskhinvali, killing several peacekeepers.

Irina Gagloyeva, a South Ossetian official in Tskhinvali, described the scene in the beseiged city overnight after the Georgian military action started.

“Virtually all the people of the city are in shelters, myself included. It started at midnight, and has barely stopped for a minute,” she told the BBC. “Can you hear? That’s rockets. All my windows have blown out. Thirty-five thousand residents of our capital have become the hostages of Georgian fascism.”

Russian fighters

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

SOUTH OSSETIA
Map of South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000
Capital: Tskhinvali
Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Orthodox Christianity
Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have been trying to break away since the civil war in the 1990s. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has convened his national security council and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a response to what he called Georgian aggression.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but has also said it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia are reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

Mr Saakashvili’s claims of Russian jets bombarding Georgian targets have not been independently confirmed.

Georgia says its aim is to finish “a criminal regime” and restore order.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told reporters on Friday the military operations would continue until there was “a durable peace”.

“As soon as a durable peace takes hold we need to move forward with dialogue and peaceful negotiations,” he told reporters.

Appeal for talks

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told Interfax news agency his forces were still in control of the city, but Georgia claims to have Tskhinvali surrounded.

The Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin, described Georgia’s actions as “treacherous”.

“The situation in the conflict zone has reached a dramatic line,” he told the emergency session, according to Russian Vesti TV news.

“Civilians, old people and children are under massive artillery shelling from Grad rocket systems, guns and large-calibre mortars.”

Despite failing to agree a text, many council members did call on the parties to pull back.

China, where the Olympic Games opens on Friday, called for worldwide truce during the sporting event.

A White House spokesman said “all sides should bring an immediate end to the violence and engage in direct talks to resolve this matter peacefully”.


Are you in South Ossetia or elsewhere in Georgia? Have you been caught up in events? Send us your comments

August 7, 2008

Several hurt in new Georgia clash

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 12:49 pm

Several hurt in new Georgia clash

BBC map showing Georgia and its breakaway regions

Georgian and separatist South Ossetian forces have exchanged  fire again near the town of Tskhinvali, wounding several people, officials say.

Georgian television said there were wounded on both sides. A South Ossetian report spoke of 18 wounded.

Russia has close ties to the separatist administration in Tskhinvali.

Russian and Georgian officials are due to hold talks shortly aimed at defusing the tensions in South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in the 1990s.

At least six people have been killed in clashes in the region in recent days.

Russia’s special envoy to the region, Yuri Popov, has gone to the Georgian capital Tbilisi for the talks, but South Ossetia has refused to take part, saying it will only agree to a meeting at which the Russian region of North Ossetia is also represented.

“The South Ossetian side, in connection with recent events, has voiced doubts about holding such negotiations. If this is the case, then I… will conduct shuttle negotiations,” Mr Popov said.

The Ossetians have traditionally had good relations with Russia – unlike some of their Caucasus neighbours – and North Ossetia is part of the Russian Federation.

‘Preparations for war’

The South Ossetian news website Cominf.org said 18 people were wounded in shelling overnight by Georgian forces deployed around Tskhinvali. There was no independent confirmation of that figure.

Georgian soldiers in ethnic Georgian village of Ergneti, 5 Aug 08

Georgian troops protect ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia

Georgia’s interior ministry said South Ossetian forces had started the latest fighting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed the latest escalation with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and “they voiced concern about the actions of the Georgian side near Tskhinvali, which can be regarded as preparations for war,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Separately, Mr Kokoity warned that his forces would drive Georgian troops from their positions near Tskhinvali if the shelling continued.

Georgian-Russian relations have been tense for months, with Georgia accusing Russia of actively supporting the separatists in South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Russia is hostile to Georgia’s ambition to join Nato and has accused Georgia of building up its forces around the breakaway regions, where Russian peacekeeping troops are deployed.

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