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15 Jul, 2008 00:28

South Ossetians fear for future

As politicians in Georgia and South Ossetia bicker over who’s to blame for raising tensions, ordinary people in the breakaway republic are struggling with daily life. The threat of war has left many residents fearful of

Zara Kochieva spent most of her life working as a nurse. Now in retirement, she looks after bees. Her son died in the conflict with Georgia. Like so many in South Ossetia, she supports herself and her family by selling what she produces.

But she is accepting her fate.

“It’s difficult. My husband is ill. But we are still working. What else can we do? You have to do whatever it takes to survive,” Zara says.

For the inhabitants of South Ossetia almost every aspect of their economic and social lives is determined by the breakaway republic’s recent history and uncertain future.

Industry has declined, as investors are scared off by frequent outbreaks of violence. Job opportunities are limited.  And for those in employment, average wages amount to less than $US 200 a month. Younger people join the sizeable army, or leave the region altogether.

Although there is no shortage of water, precious little of it flows through the taps.  The republic is divided between Georgian and Ossetian areas of control, and the Tskhinvali officials accuse Georgians of illegally siphoning off water when it passes through their zone.

There is no hot water at all in the capital Tskhinvali. But the city’s mayor, Robert Guliev, says this is a minor discomfort compared to the destructive psychological impact of the conflict.

“The main problem is the lack of security. Everything else is a practicality. We just want the Georgians to leave us alone!” Guliev says.

Electricity is also scarce. Blackouts are common, and most streets in Tskhinvali remain unlit. Shops and restaurants shut early, and gunfire often rings out after dark.

Whatever social life exists, it takes place in the central city square. Many South Ossetians have known nothing else.

It’s more than 15 years since the unrecognised republic proclaimed independence from Georgia.

Meanwhile, the White House has said it's deeply concerned about growing tension in the region.

The statement comes after Russia said its war planes undertook a patrol flight over Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia on July 10.

In recent weeks, both South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway republic of Abkhazia have been rocked by a number of explosions.

Sergey Mikheev, from the Centre of Political Technologies, believes the Black Sea contributes to the strategic importance of the region.

“It's obvious the Black Sea is at stake. As far as one can judge, the United States want to oust Russia from the shore of the Black Sea and in fact close it for Russia. It's not by chance that there's so much fuss about the Crimea and Sevastopol. There are also confirmed plans to build NATO military bases in Romania and Bulgaria. So it's all about the Black Sea,” Mikheev said.