08TBILISI1437, GEORGIA: SITREP 18: ALL EYES ON AKHALGORI

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1437 2008-08-25 12:56 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO7930
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1437/01 2381256
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251256Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9957
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001437 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC AND TASKFORCE-1 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: SITREP 18: ALL EYES ON AKHALGORI 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D) 
 
1.  (C)  Summary.  The situation remains tense in Akhalgori, 
with South Ossetian militia in an apparent standoff with 
Georgian police and interior forces; the Georgian government 
considers the location a potential flashpoint.  The Russian 
presence in the west continues, maintaining a level of 
tension in those areas.  Federal and local governments are 
providing aid to IDPs, assessing the damage and undertaking 
demining and repairs.  The arrival of an American destroyer 
with humanitarian aid received wide recognition, and several 
AmCit children cases of note have been resolved.  End Summary. 
 
STANDOFF IN AKHALGORI 
--------------------- 
 
2.  (C) On August 25, the OSCE observed at least 150 Georgian 
police and Interior Ministry forces and at least 36 vehicles 
in a small village outside Akhalgori (having heard reports of 
as many as 500 personnel).  After reporting 200 South 
Ossetian militia and four vehicles in Akhalgori on August 24, 
the OSCE observed a few dozen militia and two vehicles on 
August 25.  Both sides had entrenched their positions with 
such items as sandbags.  The OSCE reported a calm situation 
in Akhalgori and saw no evidence of looting or fires, 
although the Georgian side had reported widespread damage, 
including at schools and administrative buildings.  The 
closest Russian presence remains at the Ikoti checkpoint 
outside Akhalgori. 
 
3. (C) The two sides offered conflicting reports on the 
situation.  The Georgians expressed fears of provocative 
actions taken by the Ossetian side.  The Georgians planned to 
meet with the Ossetians on August 26.  The Ossetian side 
reported the Georgian governor had not appeared for a 
scheduled meeting with the Ossetian commandant at 0900 on 
August 25.  Although the OSCE did not observe evidence of 
looting or fires, the Ossetian side would now allow the OSCE 
to enter a school to inspect it.  The Ossetians did admit 
confiscating computers from an administrative building "for 
control." 
 
4. (SBU) Georgian Foreign and Interior Ministry officials 
told the diplomatic community on August 24 the arrival of 
Ossetian militia in Akhalgori, a historically Georgian town 
in a historically Georgian region of South Ossetia, occurred 
after the cease-fire.  They reported 400 Ossetian militia in 
Akhalgori with 16 armored vehicles and mortars.  They also 
reported the local mayor and police chief had been replaced 
with South Ossetians and Georgian police in villages south of 
Akhalgori had been given one day to leave.  They also said 
Akhalgori residents were being told that they would have to 
accept Russian passports or leave the area. 
 
5. (U) Elsewhere in South Ossetia, the press reported that 
Russian forces demolished tractors and burned houses in the 
village of Tamarasheni and "punished" residents of Tkviavi. 
Foreign journalists reported the destruction of buildings and 
the kidnapping and killing of residents in Tkviavi.  Local 
journalists reported being detained and robbed of their car 
and video equipment in Tkviavi. 
 
6.  (C)  In Gori, the situation continues to improve.  The 
British Ambassador visited the city on August 24, including 
the site of the fuel-carrying rail car that exploded.  He 
described a two kilometer of shrapnel and ordnance around the 
site, presumably from an explosion of ammunition and ordnance 
detonated by departing Russian troops.  The Georgian 
Government estimates that approximately 10,000 IDPs have 
returned to the city and to the surrounding villages.  The 
Georgian Government has given contradictory advice, 
encouraging IDPs to return and organizing buses to assist, 
but at the same time warning Gori residents of the dangers of 
unexploded ordnance.  As a result, some IDPs are choosing to 
wait in Tbilisi for a few more days before returning. 
 
SITUATION IN THE WEST 
--------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) The press reported that Russian troops entered a 
shipbuilding plant in Poti and barred local employees from 
entering; two journalists were reportedly detained and beaten 
upon trying to film a checkpoint near Poti.  Russian 
checkpoints in the west have reportedly been strengthened. 
Two new ones were established on the Gomi-Sachkere road, and 
Russians are reportedly allowing vehicles to pass only after 
inspection.  The Russians reportedly left the base in Senaki 
heavily mined, including in such places as electric switches. 
 
 
8. (C) The arrival in Batumi of a U.S. Navy destroyer loaded 
 
TBILISI 00001437  002 OF 003 
 
 
with humanitarian aid was widely reported, with Defense 
Minister Kezerashvili commenting that the ship's arrival 
delivered a strong humanitarian and political message.  The 
Embassy's Defense Attache visited Poti, reporting that 
operations on the commercial side were surprisingly normal 
and that there were no Russian checkpoin
ts on the road 
leading south from Poti to Batumi. 
 
PRISONER EXCHANGE 
----------------- 
 
9. (U) The press reported the Russians returned two military 
and five civilian detainees and the Georgians returned six 
military detainees, with talks on further returns continuing. 
 
WAR DAMAGE 
---------- 
 
10. (U) The press carried numerous reported of casualties and 
property damage, including: 
  -- The explosion of two mines in Gori, one badly injuring a 
man working in his garden and one killing a woman picking 
berries in the outskirts of Gori. 
  -- The burning of three railway fuel tanks near Skra, Shida 
Kartli.  The fire was caused by explosions at a Georgian 
arsenal near Skra. 
  -- The burning by Russians of an individual's house in 
Karaleti and a poultry farm in Mejvrishkevi, both in Shida 
Kartli. 
  -- The destruction of 50 hectares of woodland in Ateni 
Gorge near Gori, with an additional 40 hectares currently 
burning.  contributing to a total of 500 hectares of 
destroyed woodland around the country. 
 
PROTESTS 
-------- 
 
11. (U) The press reported that Russian forces fired shots in 
the air to disperse a demonstration in Pervomaiski, in Khobi 
District in Samegrelo, but the crowd did not disperse. 
 
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE 
----------------------------- 
 
12. (C) In a televised speech, President Saakashvili proposed 
the creation of a special council, including members of the 
opposition like Levan Gachechiladze, to coordinate aid to the 
victims of the war.  He also made strong statements about the 
imminent development of Russia's aggression, the country's 
resolve to rebuild, the significance of international 
support, and the need for national unity.  Saakashvili noted 
that the conflict was a "failure of western intelligence" and 
criticized Europe for a lack of support.  According to the 
French Ambassador, Saakashvili's remarks led to a call from 
President Sarkozy and harsh criticism from the French. 
Reportedly, Saakashvili apologized to Sarkozy for his remarks. 
 
IMPACT OF THE WAR ON LOCAL GOVERNMENTS 
-------------------------------------- 
 
13. (SBU) U.S. Government partners reported that at least 
nine municipalities have been directly affected by the 
conflict.  Although precise assessments of the damage are not 
yet available, local governments will need at least 
computers, other office equipment and supplies, and repairs 
to building and infrastructure.  Other governments in the 
Kakheti, Imereti and Gurian regions have been affected by the 
influx of IDPs, who are generally located in schools, youth 
camps and other government buildings, making them unavailable 
for normal use.  The buildings will require repairs after the 
IDPs' departure.  Local government staff are unavailable to 
provide normal services because they are working to 
distribute humanitarian aid and meet the IDPs' needs. 
Funding for normal services has likewise been reduced. 
 
AMCIT CHILDREN UPDATE 
----------------- 
 
14. (SBU) Two cases of American citizen children stranded 
outside Tbilisi that drew congressional attention have been 
resolved.  The ICRC reunited Nicholas Shiukashvili with his 
mother in Tbilisi August 23; he will travel back to the U.S. 
shortly (his case was raised by Rep. Bishop).  Kansas City 
natives Sofiya and Mikhail Momtselidze (are scheduled to 
arrive by public bus in Tbilisi August 25 (their case was 
raised by Rep. Moore).  Approximately 30 AmCit children 
remain outside Tbilisi, with reports of additional children 
continuing to arrive.  Most have made their own travel plans 
or have no plans to travel.  The ICRC has received requests 
for assistance in other cases and will provide additional 
information to the consular section as it becomes available. 
 
TBILISI 00001437  003 OF 003 
 
 
 
VISITORS 
-------- 
15.  (U)  Senator Lugar's August 23-24 visit was widely 
covered in the press. The economic delegation led by U/S 
Jeffrey arrived 8/25 and the OVP advance team arrives 8/27. 
Presidential candidate John McCain's wife Cindy arrives in 
Tbilisi 8/26.  A delegation led by Rep. Duncan Hunter will 
visit Tbilisi September 1. 
TEFFT

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