Georgia begins war to retake South Ossetia

Georgian forces have launched a massive military offensive to take control of its breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Heavy artillery is bombarding the capital Tskhinvali while fighter planes have attacked at least one

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity says his forces are still in control of the capital Tskhinvali despite reports to the contrary. Earlier, Imedi radio in Tbilisi reported that Georgian forces had seized the city.

In a televised address on Friday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russian war planes of bombing Georgian villages inside and outside the confict zone.  He said the nation's reserve forces had been mobilized in a bid 'save the country'. He also claimed Georgian forces had seized most of South Ossetia.

In Moscow, President Medvedev has met top advisers to discuss ways of ending the violence. He says a top priority is protecting South Ossetia’s civilian population – many of whom hold Russian passports.

In New York, the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a draft resolution calling on both sides in the conflict to end the violence. The Russian-drafted resolution was blocked by the US, Britain and other members of the 15-member council.

Military onslaught

Georgian Su-25 attack planes are bombing the South Ossetian village of Kvernet, according to local  officials. They also claim Georgia is using truck-mounted missile launchers to shell the centre of Tskhinvali.

Georgian troops heading to Tskhinvali              AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov
Georgian troops heading to Tskhinvali (AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov)

North Ossetia's President Teimuraz Mamsurov has accused Georgian forces of hitting a humanitarian aid convoy travelling from his country to South Ossetia.

More than 15 civilians have been killed in overnight clashes, according to preliminary reports.

South Ossetian sources say Georgia is sending vast amounts of military hardware to the region.
    
“A column of Georgian tanks and infantry is moving toward Tskhinvali. A large part of the city has already been destroyed,” the administration's press service said.
    

Georgian armoured vehicle             AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov
Georgian armoured vehicle AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov

Several buildings are on fire in central Tskhinvali, and the local parliament building has burned down, the statement said.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has called up the country’s reserve force.

“The mobilization of reserve troops has been declared and is ongoing,” he said.
    
More than 100,000 reserve soldiers aged 25-45 have received military training in Georgia in the past few years.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze said the military operation against South Ossetia would continue until peace is established, reports Russia’s Ria news agency.

“The goal of Georgia's actions in the conflict zone to establish peace in the region. And we will not stop until we have attained this goal,” he’s reported to have said.

Russian casualties

It’s been confirmed that some Russian peacekeepers working in the region have been killed in the fighting, although exact figures have not yet been released.

Yuri Popov – co-chairman of the joint control commission of the Russian Foreign Ministry for settling the conflict – told the Itar-Tass news agency: “The headquarters of the peacekeeping forces have been partially destroyed”.

In the meantime, in Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is heading a meeting aimed at halting the violence.

The Kremlin press service issued a statement saying the meeting was also focusing on measures to protect the civilian population and Russian citizens in the conflict zone.

The statement went on to say that Russian peacekeepers “have a mandate…to safeguard Russian interests in the region”.

UN Security Council in stalemate over the conflict

And the United Nations Security Council has failed to agree on a statement drafted by Russia, calling on Georgia and South Ossetia to immediately end the violence.

Russia called an emergency session of the 15-nation council. Two hours of talks were held behind closed doors late on Thursday in New York. The session continued with an open meeting and public speeches by Russia, Georgia and other council members for another hour.

At the meeting, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Georgian leadership had lost the international community's trust as a result of its military operation.
    
“All of Tbilisi's actions have fully undermined the credit of trust vested in the Georgian leadership as a committed party in the negotiations and in international dealings that meet the UN principles and charter,” he stressed.

Diplomats say the Security Council reached a stalemate after the United States, Britain and some other members backed Georgia in rejecting a phrase in the statement requiring both sides to ‘renounce the use of force.’