Zaza Gorozia, Governor of Samegrelo, a region bordering with breakaway Abkhazia, told the parliamentary commission studying the August war, about the developments taking place ahead and during the Russian military occupation of the region.
He said that he attended a meeting of provincial governors in Tbilisi on August 7, where Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, briefed them about the increased tensions in the South Ossetian conflict zone; the Minister, Gorozia, said focused on South Ossetia, as no further deterioration of situation was expected in the Samegrelo region at that point.
“The evening of August 8 was the very difficult,” he continued. “The Russian aircraft started air strikes and bombed Senaki and Poti; three civilians were killed in Senaki and six in Poti; the death toll later increased to ten in Poti.”
The Russian forces, he said, started amassing military hardware in the Gali district of breakaway Abkhazia, bordering with the Samegrelo region, on August 9. “That is the day when the President arrived in the region despite increasing tensions,” Gorozia said.
He said that on the evening of August 10, a Russian military command on the ground contacted him and the local police chief and requested a meeting at which the Russian side informed Georgian officials about their intention to advance deeper into the Zugdidi district in order to fully take control over the 12-km security zone – the area which was under the Russian peacekeepers zone of responsibility.
Gorozia said that he tried to resist this move by Russians during the talks with the Russian military commanders, but eventually he and the local police chief had to agree in order to prevent endangering local civilian population. Gorozia said that he had informed about this decision Davit Tkeshelashvili, the state minister in charge of regional issues. Gorozia said local police chief was ordered from superiors to agree with Russians; he, however, said he did not know who ordered that to the police chief.
At that time, he said, “there were no Georgian armed forces in the Samegrelo region; there were no Georgian soldiers in the region,” as Georgian military units were send to fight advancing Russian forces in South Ossetia. He said that despite initial agreement, the Russian forces on August 11 moved beyond the 12-km security zone and occupied almost the entire Samegrelo region, including Senaki and Poti.
Gorozia said that on August 12 the Abkhaz separatist forces took over the control of Khurcha and Ganmukhuri – villages which are administratively part of the Zugdidi district. He also said that the Abkhaz officials were trying to convince locals in Khurcha and Ganmukhuri to take loyalty towards the Abkhaz authorities, but the locals, Gorozia said, were rejected.
Gorozia said that the Russian forces were totally ignoring UN observers. He also said that
He said he would speak about the measures undertaken in respect “to save” military infrastructure in Senaki military base at the closed-door session of the commission.
Lado Vardzelashvili, Governor of Shida Kartli region, where town of Gori is located, and which borders with breakaway South Ossetia, told the commission that “heavy shelling” of the Georgian village from the very beginning of August.
He said that like other governors, he also attended the meeting with Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili in Tbilisi on August 7; the meeting was also attended by State Minister for Regional Issues, Davit Tkeshelashvili. “We were instructed at the meeting to take measures to prevent panic and disorganized activity of the local authorities,” Vardzelashvili said.
“The first bombardment of Gori took place on August 8, causing casualties among civilians,” he said. “At that point we understood that evacuation was needed… It was not agreed with anyone [with superiors]. I ordered local administration officials to inform the local population about the need to leave the town.” He also said that no written evacuation plan, prepared in advance, existed.
Total of 104 civilians were killed in the Shida Kartli region, he said.
Vardzelashvili said that he had to leave the town of Gori on the evening of August 11, “because it was not possible to stay there.” He said that he moved to Kaspi – another town in the same region, and returned back to Gori on August 13.
He said that he had to communicate often with the deputy commander of the Russia’s airborne troops, Maj. Gen. Alexander Borisov, who was in charge of the Russian troops on the ground. Vardzelashvili said “Gen. Borisov was almost always drunk.”
“During one of the conversations with him, when he was drunk, he said that they [Russians] aimed at change of the government in Georgia and that they had an order to capture President Saakashvili,” Vardzelashvili said. “That is what he said to me.”