Russian-backed paramilitaries ‘ethnically cleansing villages’
Russian-backed paramilitaries are “ethnically cleansing” villages on Georgian soil, refugees and officials told The Times yesterday.
South Ossetian militiamen have torched houses, beaten elderly people and even murdered civilians in the lawless buffer zone set up by the Russian Army just north of Gori. The violence, close to the border with the breakaway republic recognised by Russia this week as independent, has prompted a new wave of refugees into Gori, 40 miles north of Tbilisi.
- “They had no uniform — I think they were Ossetians,” said Siyala Sereteli, 73, who fled her village of Irganeteye the previous day when irregular forces arrived. Weeping, she lifted her sleeve to show a deep bruise inflicted by a blow from a rifle stock. “They took everything they wanted, even the fans. They beat up a man using sticks and a chair and then threw him in the river,” she said.
- A look of deep shock froze the face of Oliko Gnolidze when she managed to make contact on her mobile phone with an uncle, Nodari Jashiashvili, in Tkviai, about a 20-minute drive away. “There is panic here, they are burning houses,” came the crackly voice of her uncle. “I don’t know what to do. Ossetians are in the village.” Ms Gnolidze, 38, said that in earlier conversations her uncle had told her that only a few people remained in the village, with Ossetian irregulars looting under the noses of Russian troops, described by Moscow as “peacekeepers”. She said the Russians had forced her uncle to cook a meal for them, after which he had fled and hidden in nearby woods.
- Shorta Kharadze, a 45-year-old lorry driver, returned to Gori from Tbilisi, where he had sheltered during the fighting, after his mother’s neighbours from the village of Megheverizkevi told him that she had been murdered by South Ossetian militiamen. “They beat her with an axe handle. There’s a pond in our yard — she fell near it and they pushed her in. I don’t know if she was still alive when they pushed her in or if she drowned,” Mr Kharadze said.
- “It’s like ethnic cleansing, genocide,” said Koba Tlashadze, a council official in Gori, “It’s a special operation codenamed Clean Field, because they are emptying the villages.”
The UNHCR has voiced its concern about reports of “new forcible displacement caused by marauding militias north of Gori near the boundary with South Ossetia”. It said as many as 400 displaced people had gathered on Gori’s square on Tuesday “after being forced to flee their villages by marauders operating in the so-called buffer zone established along the boundary with South Ossetia”.