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25 Sep, 2008 18:13

Ossetian war aftermath 'shocking' – PACE

Ossetian accounts of the war with Georgia are shocking, according to the head of the Political Affairs Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Goran Lindblad. PACE delegation has visited

The nine PACE members have traveled to the capital Tskhinval to assess the damage and meet locals. A report on their findings will be released on Monday.

The delegation was expected to arrive in Tskhinval at midday; however, it landed there with a three hour delay. This was due to the fact that the delegation decided – at the last moment – to visit villages in the area. Crucially, all of the villages that they inspected, save one, were Georgian. The delegation's final report will be delivered on Monday before the PACE assembly in Strasbourg.

After a meeting with the South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity, PACE members were expected to visit affected areas of the city, the Russian peacekeepers' military camp, as well as several Ossetian and Georgian villages in the area.

The discussions with the republic's president were heated and uneasy, Leonid Slutskiy – a Russian PACE delegation member – told Interfax. Kokoity interpreted the delegation's delay as resentment from the Georgian side and its unwillingness to allow PACE members to assess the situation in Tskhinval on the spot.

Slutskiy also pointed out that PACE delegation members are now gaining a “true understanding of Georgian aggression against South Ossetia on the 8th of August”.

The South Ossetian president called for the international community to “step away from emotions and planned conclusion and to gain insight into the problem which turned into a tragedy for the small Ossetian population”.

Prior to the meeting, Kokoity noted that he was determined to unveil the truth for the PACE mission, despite them ignoring “diplomatic etiquette” due to their delay. The South Ossetian President was furious because of the delay and announced in a heavily-worded statement that he would never again receive a delegation visiting South Ossetia from Georgia.

Moscow is unhappy with the delegation’s itinerary (Russia-Munich-Georgia-South Ossetia-Georgia). Russia believes it would have been more sensible to travel from Moscow and then to North and South Ossetia before heading to Georgia.

Destroyed homes and empty shells in the centre of Tskhinval have become a familiar sight. It's not the first time many have felt the effects of conflict in the Caucasus. But locals say the recent conflict in South Ossetia has proven to be the most inhuman during the long-term history of relationship between the two ethnicities.

The entire 20th century was marked by a series of hostilities. In the 1920s Georgians forced many thousands of Ossetians to escape north, through snowy mountains of the great Caucasian Range. Many then walked the whole way to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia on foot.

It was the Soviet power that guaranteed peace and people came back to their homes. 92-year old Olga Kabulova was among them. Times were tough when they lived in exile, but at least her mother didn't abandon her like other parents were forced to do. Olga doesn't know why Georgians set centuries-long persecution upon her people.

“I remember very well how we used to send all our produce, all our fruit, to Tbilisi. They just didn't appreciate it,” she says.

She was hoping the situation would never be repeated but another tension occurred when the Soviet Union collapsed. South Ossetia wanted to break away like other subjects of the empire. Tbilisi opposed the move and deployed its army in the region.

The woman's elder son remembers the time well.

“They tied my hands, threw me on the ground, face down, and started beating me on the head with a shovel. Have you ever seen your own ears? I saw mine chopped off and hanging in front of my face. I don't know why my skull didn't crack. Then they turned me around and said, Now, swallow your teeth. They beat me with a pistol butt. They broke all my teeth. I swallow four and spat out the rest,” Felix Kabulov recalls.

Twenty fellow workers of Felix were buried alive then, he says. And now 16 years later another war in South Ossetia.

“If only I could meet with Saakashvili one-on-one in a boxing ring. One round would be enough,” he said.
It's hard to overestimate the human tragedy in South Ossetia. Many people still can't sleep or tremble from any sudden noise, but they hope this war will be the last one on their land. But now when the shelling is over the coming winter is their worst nightmare which many of them will face literally under open skies.