Davit Tkeshelashvili, the state minister for regional issues, who is in charge of coordination of local authorities in the provinces, testified before the parliamentary commission studying the August war on November 10.
He told the commission that the government had no written and sophisticated plan on evacuation of civilian population from the war-affected areas, “because Georgia was not planning any military actions” and no full-scale military aggression was expected from Russia.
Below are key points of State Minister Tkeshelashvili’s testimony:
- He was asked based on the recent New York Times article, which suggested citing OSCE military observers, that Georgian villages were not shelled late on August 7, prior to Tskhinvali shelling by the Georgian forces. State Minister Tkeshelashvili responded: The Georgian villages were under intensive fire from the beginning of August on the daily basis, especially the villages of Nuli and Avnevi, but other villages were also under fire as well. I was receiving this information based on my daily contacts with heads of local administrations on the ground;
- On August 6, after it was already evident that situation was escalating, I summoned in Tbilisi all the regional governors. The meeting was held on August 7 approximately at 5 or 6pm [local time]. Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, attended the meeting upon my request, who informed the governors about the situation in the conflict zone;
- The Interior Minister gave general information about the situation and told us that some Russian units had started entering [into South Ossetia] via Roki Tunnel;
- At that stage we had no information that a full-scale aggression was planned against Georgia;
- The major instruction that I have given to the regional governors was to continue activities in a usual, normal way;
- No plan on evacuation was discussed at the meeting, because at that time we were not thinking that the situation could have grown into a full-scale aggression;
- There was no special evacuation plan… No mass evacuation was planned, although separate instructions were given certain heads of village administrations in the Kareli and Gori districts [in Shida Kartli region bordering with breakaway South Ossetia]; in those villages heads of local administrations were going door-to-door telling people to leave the area;
- Evacuation was not planned, because Georgia was not planning any military actions and no one thought that Russians could have done what they’ve done – massive ethnic cleansing and forcing ethnic Georgians from their villages;
- As far as villages in Didi Liakhvi gorge [a Georgian enclave in the north of Tskhinvali] are concerned – when it became clear that a full-scale invasion was underway, at that point we deemed it very dangerous to evacuate locals from there through the [Georgian-controlled] by-pass road [which was linking the Georgian enclave with the Georgian proper by-passing Tskhinvali], because this road was among the targets of separatist forces. One of the reasons, as far as I know, why [the Georgian army decided to advance] inside Tskhinvali was to evacuate [residents of the village in the north of the breakaway region’s capital] through Tskhinvali;
- The local authorities in the provinces were on their places of work, wherever it was possible – you know there were problems in this respect in Gori [when the town was occupied by the Russian troops];
- On August 11 Governor of Shida Kartli region [where the town of Gori is located] Lado Vardzelashvili left Gori and he was back in Gori on August 13 – he will personally tell you when he testifies before the commission about the reasons. He, however, has never left the Shida Kartli region; he was in Kaspi [another town in the same region].