MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 299: South Ossetia Tensions Escalate

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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 299, August 10, 2005

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE AUGUST 10 

INVESTIGATION: NORTH OSSETIA’S ARMS BAZAAR Criminals and ordinary
citizens are buying black market weapons in the North Caucasus. By Murat
Gabarayev in Vladikavkaz.

SOUTH OSSETIA TENSIONS ESCALATE Detention of alleged bombers again pits
South Ossetia against Tbilisi. By Alan Parastayev in Tskhinval and Zurab
Bendeniashvili in Tbilisi 

SPY ROW SHAKES AZERBAIJAN Arrest of opposition activist on spying charge
heats pre-election passions in Baku. By Rufat Abbasov and Gulnaz Gulieva
in Baku 

AZERI LIFERS DEMAND SENTENCE REVIEW Azerbaijan’s Constitutional Court
intervenes in a row that led to a prison hunger strike. By Idrak Abbasov
in Baku
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SOUTH OSSETIA TENSIONS ESCALATE

Detention of alleged bombers again pits South Ossetia against Tbilisi.

By Alan Parastayev in Tskhinval and Zurab Bendeniashvili in Tbilisi 

The detention of three men from South Ossetia by the Georgian
authorities and a fresh round of mutual recriminations has heightened
tensions once again between the breakaway region and Tbilisi. 

This week, Georgia has been holding military exercises in the town of
Kutaisi, and the authorities in Tskhinval (or Tskhinvali as it is known
in Georgia) have been watching for any build-up of Georgian forces that
might lead to a military intervention in South Ossetia.

Last month Georgian interior minister Vano Merabishvili accused the
South Ossetian authorities of being behind a car bombing in the town of
Gori in which three people died. 

He made the sensational allegation that a Russian military intelligence
officer based in South Ossetia had plotted the attack, and that two
Ossetians accused of carrying out the attack, Gia Valiev and Gia Zasiev,
had been arrested in a special operation. The man who bought the vehicle
used in the attack was also said to be in custody.

Merabishvili alleged that the Russian officer had formed a special
underground group a year and a half ago, and it had been trained within
Russia. He said the group had carried a number of attacks in addition to
the Gori bombing. 

The authorities in South Ossetia – which has been de facto independent
of Georgia since a war that ended in 1991 – strongly denied the
allegations, which they said were merely a pretext to implicate the
unrecognised republic in “terrorism” and move towards a military
campaign. 

“These accusations are of course without foundation and have nothing to
do with a real enquiry,” said South Ossetia’s chief negotiator Boris
Chochiev. “We advise the Georgian side to look for terrorists not in
South Ossetia, but within Georgia itself.” 

“All the signs that we should expect violence or ‘aggressive
peacemaking’ are in front of our eyes,” said Irina Gagloyeva, who heads
the South Ossetian government’s information committee. Gagloyeva said
that last year the Georgian government had failed to persuade the United
States to endorse military action against South Ossetia, but that this
year the speaker of parliament Nino Burjanadaze had succeeded..in
winning Washington’s approval under the guise of a “war against terror”.

The South Ossetian authorities say that a man by the same name as the
Russian officer named by Merabishvili did work with them until January
this year, but has now left the territory.  

Last summer, several dozen people died in an upsurge of violence in
South Ossetia. 

This year has been quieter, but several incidents in the last two months
amount to a deterioration in the situation. 

In late June, four Ossetian soldiers and one Georgian policeman were
left dead after a firefight in the ethnic Georgian village of
Tamarasheni-Kekhvi, inside South Ossetia. In Tskhinval, people believe
this was a planned operation.

The Georgian media has accused the South Ossetians of being behind the
disappearance of four villagers from Tamarasheni. But in South Ossetia,
this incident is commonly believed to involve criminals settling scores
with people who had run up heavy debts, rather than an act of revenge
for the killing of the Ossetian soldiers. 

Each of these incidents is being investigated by the Joint Control
Commission, JCC, coordinated by the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, which is the main international
mediator in the conflict. 

But there is little belief in the effectiveness of the JCC. “The very
fact that Valiev and Zasiev have been arrested and accused of terrorism
is another step taken by those who are seeking to compromise the JCC and
the peacekeepers,” said Leonid Tibilov, deputy chairman of the JCC on
the South Ossetian side. “By someone who wants to take their place.” 

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has given out mixed signals about
his country’s unresolved territorial disputes, saying that he will
pursue peaceful means to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under
Tbilisi’s control - but also that he wants to achieve this by the end of
his first term in office. 

“We will not put up with preserving the conflicts in a frozen state and
we can’t wait for the solution of these problems for a hundred years, so
we will be very aggressive in searching for peace,” Saakashvili told a
conference on the South Ossetian conflict in Batumi on July 10.

The conference took place without any participants from South Ossetia,
and was condemned there as a public relations exercise. 

The likelihood of war is the main topic of discussion in Tskhinval’s
Theatre Square. “If they [Georgia] wanted war, they would have brought
tanks up to the town,” said one man. “Saakashvili is talking about
imposing order in a legal manner.” 

He added, “Russia doesn’t want an escalation either. It would have
reacted more aggressively to the detention of the ‘terrorists’.” 

“But exercises in Kutaisi – that’s definitely a preparation for war in
South Ossetia,” countered his neighbour on a bench. 

“We don’t support terror, we are building a state,” said Dali, a young
woman who had come from Moscow to start a business in Tskhinval. “We
have Georgian enclaves right under our noses which bring us problems –
they shoot our boys, they closed the road to North Ossetia. But we don’t
blow them up. Yet they accuse us of an act of terrorism in Gori.” 

“No one in recent history has suffered more from terrorism than
Ossetians,” said Sergei Tedeyev, a member of the Youth Human Rights
Movement. “There was the shooting in Zars, the attack by Chechen
terrorists on a police building in 2000 and then Beslan. We have never
responded to terror with terror.”

“With every new incident the republic loses more and more,” said Timur
Tskhovrebov, leader of the Union of Ex-Combatants of South Ossetia. “The
murderers have not been caught, the disappeared have not been found,
accusations of terrorism are made. People feel undefended. Emotions
could spill over and then it won’t be possible to contain them.” 

Georgian conflict specialist Paata Zakareishvili said that there was no
evidence that the arrested men had anything to do with the South
Ossetian authorities and that the “hand of Moscow” was more likely to be
involved. 

Zakareishvili said there was no reason to believe there was support for
terrorism in South Ossetia, “A significant part of this population does
not exactly trust Georgia but does hope that Georgia will change its
attitude towards them. There isn’t a strong ambition for independence,
and they feel that it is impossible.”

Alan Parastayev is director of the South Ossetian Centre for Civic
Initiatives. Zurab Bendeniashvili is director of Prime News agency in
Tbilisi.

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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2005 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 

CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
299

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