Government Comes under Fire from Opposition over South Ossetia
/ 17 Sep.'04 / 22:20
Nino Khutsidze, Civil Georgia

Opposition used parliamentary debates to
slam the government’s South Ossetian policy
>

Parliamentary debates were held on September 16 during which the opposition accused the leading Georgian authorities of conducting an "uncoordinated" and "unsuccessful" operation in breakaway South Ossetia in August.

Clashes between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militias erupted in early August which resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries. On August 19, Georgian troops captured strategic heights overlooking the separatist region’s capital Tskhinvali; however the Georgian authorities handed over these heights to the joint peacekeeping troops on the same day and started pulling out of its non-peacekeeping troops from the conflict zone on August 20.

The parliamentary debates were initiated by the Rightist Opposition faction, which demanded that the authorities unveil the exact number of Georgian soldiers killed during the clashes, as well as to inform the MPs how much was allocated from the state budget for the military operations in August; to explain why the Russian peacekeepers retain their status despite recognition of Russia as one of the parties involved in the conflict; how much have these events influenced the investment environment in the country and whether the August campaign was agreed upon with a strategic partner - the United States. All these questions by the opposition, which were submitted to the executive government on September 7, all but remained unanswered during the September 16 parliamentary debates. However, the debates did unveil several details about the August events in South Ossetia, which have formerly remained unknown.

Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was summoned by the Parliament as one of the key persons during August events, refrained from answering the majority of the questions put to him by opposition members. However, he did reveal that a total of 17 Georgian servicemen were killed during the clashes with South Ossetian militias in August.

"Nobody thought to hide information about these heroes," Okruashvili added. Initially, reports regarding the number of casualties were conflicting. Earlier the Georgian Healthcare Ministry announced that 19 people had been killed during skirmishes in the South Ossetia, while the State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava said in late August that the Georgian side lost 16 servicemen.

Okruashvili said that "those boys who died" were severely attacked by South Ossetian militias every night.

"We were forced to repel and respond with fire; frankly speaking, we even bombed Tskhinvali [capital of breakaway South Ossetia]," Okruashvili said.

This is for the first time that Georgian officials have admitted that Georgian forces bombed the South Ossetian capital. According to the South Ossetian side, three civilians died as a result repeated attacks on Tskhinvali in August.

Okruashvili added that only after shelling Tskhinvali did de facto President of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoev agree to open roads via the South Ossetian capital, which made it possible for the Georgian side to enter into the Georgian enclave of Didi Liakhvi gorge without using by-pass roads.

The leader of the opposition Republican Party, MP Ivliane Khaindrava, said that the authorities pursued an inconsistent policy towards South Ossetia.

"A justified ‘humanitarian attack’ was changed through an unjustified use of force," he said, referring to several humanitarian initiatives which were launched by the Georgian authorities in South Ossetia in May.

"Peace talks in the morning and war at night. We had the impression that Georgia had two separate authorities - one in the daytime and another at night," Ivliane Khaindrava said, hinting towards the fact that the shootouts in the conflict zone were occurring mainly after midnight.

"The government’s decision to sack [Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces] Givi Iukuridze and their decision to merge the Internal Troops with the Defense Ministry revealed that the activities by the authorities, as well as by the Georgian forces, lacked coordination," non-partisan opposition MP Koba Davitashvili said at the parliamentary session.

Givi Iukuridze was dismissed on August 25, soon after the developments in South Ossetia, while the decision to merge the Internal Troops with the Defense Ministry was unveiled on September 15. However, the government denies that these two decisions were linked with the developments in South Ossetia.

According to Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the Rightist Opposition, the authorities made a serious mistake by handing over strategic heights to the joint peacekeeping troops, involving Georgian, Russian and Ossetian forces.

"By handing over the strategic heights and pulling the troops out, we demonstrated that we choose the peaceful way of conflict resolution. Our supreme task was to avoid involvement in the conflict and we demonstrated it to the international community," MP Giga Bokeria told Civil Georgia.

Davit Gamkrelidze also said at the parliamentary session that as a result of the "absolutely unprepared and spontaneous" military campaign in August, "we have returned to the situation which existed in the conflict zone some ten years ago."

But MP Giga Bokeria says that the "status quo will not be restored in South Ossetia any more." He says that the black-market in Ergneti, which was a black hole for Georgia’s economy and one of the main sources of income for the separatists, has been closed down; the Georgian villages are well-protected and officials in Tbilisi are determined to restore the territorial integrity of the nation.

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