08TBILISI1522, CLAIMS OF ATROCITIES IN GEORGIA MERIT SERIOUS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1522 2008-09-05 14:57 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO6300
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1522/01 2491457
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051457Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0036
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001522 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR GEORGIA COORDINATION GROUP, EUR/CARC AND S/WCI 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/03/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KAWC RU GG
SUBJECT: CLAIMS OF ATROCITIES IN GEORGIA MERIT SERIOUS 
INVESTIGATION 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary and Comment.  In advance of S/WCI Ambassador 
Williamson's September 8-11 visit to Georgia, the Embassy has 
compiled a preliminary list of the many reports we have 
received of "ethnic cleansing" and accusations of "war 
crimes" that have taken place in the conflict zones and areas 
adjacent to the conflict zones taken from the Georgian press, 
international journalists on the ground, NGOs, local 
residents, and the Georgian government.  Limited access to 
many affected areas makes assessing the reports difficult. 
Although called a war by some, we believe that from a legal 
perspective the violence is more likely to be considered an 
international conflict, thus triggering the application of 
broader portions of international treaties governing the 
conduct of war.  The Geneva Convention of 1949 identifies a 
set of individuals and property entitled to protection and 
prohibits certain actions against these protected classes. If 
the criteria defined by the International Criminal Tribunal 
for the Former Yugoslavia for "ethnic cleansing" and "war 
crimes" are used as a guide, then serious investigation is 
warranted based on the reports below.  End Summary and 
Comment. 
 
General context 
--------------- 
 
2.  (C)  On August 8, 2008, the Russian Army (RA) entered 
South Ossetia under the auspices of protecting its 
peacekeepers and citizens in South Ossetia.  Russian 
President Medvedev claimed that the Georgian Army (GA) 
committed atrocities against Russian citizens, and the RA 
entered to protect the South Ossetians and Russian 
peacekeeping forces stationed in South Ossetia.  The conflict 
soon spread beyond the conflict zone in South Ossetia into 
Georgia proper, with the Russian Armed Forces attacking 
civilian and military targets, and occupying substantial 
swaths of territory before withdrawing the bulk of their 
forces August 22.  There are reports of Cossacks, South 
Ossetian separatists and RA elements kidnapping, wounding and 
raping Georgians, both civilians and soldiers, as well as 
looting, and robbing banks, even after a cease-fire was 
declared the weekend of August 16-17.  There are also reports 
of South Ossetian forces and others affiliated with Russia 
began a systematic identification, separation, and killing of 
ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia and surrounding villages. 
Separatist South Ossetian "president" Kokoity at one point 
boasted to the press that several ethnic Georgian villages in 
the territory "have ceased to exist."  Even as discussions 
were ongoing about the withdrawal of Russian troops, South 
Ossetian forces occupied the predominantly Georgian town of 
Akhalgori in the far eastern edge of the conflict zone and, 
according to Georgian officials, forced local residents to 
accept Russian passports and South Ossetian administrative 
officials or to leave.  This action was enabled by RA forces 
who set up a checkpoint on the main road to Akhalgori, 
between Georgian police and South Ossetian forces. 
 
3. (C) Many of the offenses are alleged to have occurred in 
South Ossetia, access to which is still controlled by Russian 
forces.  Although a small number of independent observers, 
including journalists, Human Rights Watch and the 
International Committee for the Red Cross, have been able to 
travel into South Ossetia, they have not been given full 
access to the territory.  In addition, Russia continues to 
refuse entry to many, including OSCE monitors and U.S. 
government officials.  The incidents listed below represent 
initial compilation efforts and should not be considered 
comprehensive, as a unimpeded investigation to confirm facts 
is not yet possible.  These initial reports warrant further 
investigation. 
 
What We are Hearing 
------------------- 
 
4.  (C) Since August 7, post has received many reports from 
all over Georgia which can be categorized as: 
 
A.  Willful Killing.  Emboffs have received reports of 
Russians rounding up ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia and 
shooting them.  Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers say they 
have documented evidence that cluster bombs were used in and 
around the villages of Shindisi and Pkhvenisi, in the Gori 
District, and in the town of Ruisi in the Kareli District. 
GoG authorities claim that a cluster strike in Gori city 
center killed at least eight civilians and injured dozens. 
They also suggest that Russian forces deliberately used 
"Afghanistan"-style cluster bombs (an apparent reference to 
the Soviet invasion), which have red ribbons attached to the 
munitions in order to attract children. HRW noted that the 
 
TBILISI 00001522  002 OF 003 
 
 
Georgian military also used cluster bombs.  The Georgian MOD 
wrote a letter to HRW acknowledging that it used cluster 
munitions, but noted that they were only used against RA 
military forces coming from Russia through
 the Roki Tunnel. 
(Embassy note.  Apparently, these were Israeli GRADLAR 160 
multiple launch rocket systems and MK4 LAR 160 type (with M85 
bomblets) rockets with a range of 45 kilometers.  End note.) 
In the letter they explain that the bombs were directed not 
at civilians, but at Russian military hardware.  The same 
letter also stressed that the Russian side aimed the cluster 
bombs at residential areas, targeting the civilian 
population.  Dutch journalist Stan Storimans was killed in 
among those who died in Gori and Israeli journalist Zadok 
Yehezkeli was injured. 
 
B.  Destruction and Appropriation of Property.  Eyewitness 
accounts have relayed incidents of irregular forces looting 
Georgians homes and businesses, car-jacking international 
journalists, and robbing reporters.  Some accounts accuse 
Russian troops and separatists of hauling furniture, 
televisions, personal items, and household fixtures from 
private homes.  Russian and separatist forces burned down 
houses in Surani, Khashuri, Tkviavi, and Tidznisi and in some 
cases were proud of the fact that Georgian enclaves in South 
Ossetia had been destroyed.  On August 22, de facto South 
Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told the Russian news agency 
Regnum that Georgian enclaves in South Ossetia had been 
liquidated, with the villages of Kekhvi and Tamarasheni being 
totally destroyed.  The Georgian government has publicly 
distributed satellite imagery of Tamarasheni, a predominantly 
Georgian town north of Tskhinvali, to show widespread fire 
damage. 
 
C:  Attacking Civilian Objects.  Georgian government 
officials allege that Russian forces ignited the Borjomi 
forest, a National Heritage Site, and initially refused 
Turkish firefighters permission to extinguish the blaze.  The 
roads were blocked, preventing Georgian firefighters from 
reaching the blaze, which then spread to neighboring 
villages.  The government claims that 50,000 hectares of 
national forest were burned in the Ateni National Forest as 
well. 
 
D.  Killing or wounding a person outside of combat. 
According to local inhabitants, a resident of Gori was shot 
when he attempted to stop looters in his home.  It is unknown 
how many civilians in the Tskhinvali area were killed by 
bombardments from Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian 
forces.  On August 8-11, Russian warplanes bombed the 
residential area of Gori, killing 45 civilians and injuring 
more.  As a result of these bombings, eight apartment 
buildings were destroyed in Gori, leaving about 500 families 
homeless.  In a village near Agara (Kareli District), locals 
reported Russian military jets bombed an ambulance. 
 
E:  Attacking protected objects.  GoG reports claim bombing 
of ambulances in Agara (Khashuri region).  While local 
national staff at the Embassy received reports of damage at 
an Orthodox monastery and the Nikozi church from the .  In 
Azhara (Kodori Gorge) Russian forces reportedly threatened 
nuns.  Russian and Ossetian irregulars reportedly robbed the 
Gori-Samtavisi Eparchy, and took personal items from the 
priest there. 
 
F:  Destroying or seizing civilian property.  While initially 
targetting military objects, Russian forces eventually 
attacked civilian targets, which in turn set off mass 
looting.  The Georgian government reports looting in the 
following villages:  Brotsleti, Mejvriskhevi, Gorijvari, 
Tkviavi, (Gori District), Breti, Avnevni, Tseronisi, Knolevi 
(Kareli district), and Khandaki, Doesi, Karaghadi (Kaspi 
District).  Assets damaged or destroyed by the Russian 
military and/or South Ossetian separatist include, civilian 
radar stations in Savhsebi and Tbilisi, civilian 
administration buildings at Poti port, a German-owned cement 
factory in Kaspi, the Didi Liakhiv Museum in Kurta, the Ivane 
Machabeli Museum in Kurta, the Sachkere Hospital, the Lomisi 
Beer Factory, and a Gori television transmission station. 
The Enguri hydro-electric station and the Ganmukheri youth 
camp were captured.  The GoG alleges landmines were set 
around the Enguri power plant and on the Khaisi and Chuberi 
bridges.  Not unexpectedly, the city of Gori was hardest hit 
by Russian missile attacks, with the university, post office, 
hospital, and three museums sustaining damage.  The Georgian 
government also reported mines in a dozen utility facilities 
(such as electricity substations) around the city.  Russian 
bombs and a missile struck the ground above the Baku-Supsa 
Pipeline four km south of the Vaziani airbase.  Russian 
troops reportedly looted goods from Poti port, vandalized the 
Georgian Coast Guard headquarters, and stole a UK-provided 
 
TBILISI 00001522  003 OF 003 
 
 
vessel.  British Petroleum representatives reported that on 
August 18, drunk Russian soldiers arrived at the Baku-Supsa 
pipeline pumping station in Nabakhtevi and began shooting 
their weapons into the air, harassing the local workers.  A 
recently released report by the GoG indicates that the 
following villages sustained significant damage during 
hostilities: Kvemo-Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Kura, Zemo 
Achabeti, Kemerti, Dzarcemi, Tskhinvali, and Kheiti. 
 
G:  Rape-Sexual Violence.  The GoG reported multiple 
instances of Russian Cossacks raping Georgian girls/women in 
villages from South Ossetia to Gori.  Additionally, GoG 
claimed local sources told them of Ossetian Separatists 
taking Georgians hostage in the villages of Nikozi, Dzveri, 
Tkviavi, Karaleti, Kaspi, Ditsi, and Arbo.  Deputy Minister 
of Interior Zguladze told visiting Representative Christopher 
Smith of a disturbing kidnapping of a 25-year old woman by 
Russian forces from a mini-van; according to Deputy Foreign 
Minister Giga Bokeria, the woman was released on August 23 in 
very poor condition.  Two senior Georgian parliamentarians 
told visiting Senator Corker that they understood 17 Georgian 
women had been raped, but cautioned that the number could be 
much higher, since Georgian women often do not report rapes 
because of the social stigma attached. 
 
H:  Enforced disappearance of persons.  Post received reports 
that Russians were gathering Georgians and taking them to 
South Ossetia for unknown reasons.  In some accounts, 
Georgians were blindfolded and transported away.  GoG 
authorities reported that Ossetian separatists, with the help 
of Russian soldiers, kidnapped Georgians from the villages of 
Bobnevi, Marana, Dzevera, Khidistavi, Tchalaubani and 
forcefully took them to a forest.  Deputy Foreign Minister 
Giga Bokeria told Ambassador on August 25 that over 250 
Georgians were being held in a Tskhinvali camp and were used 
as forced labor to clean up the city.  (Note: Detainee 
exchanges have been ongoing since the cease-fire.  End note.) 
 
I:  Rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force 
or intimidation to remove persons or given groups from these 
areas.  GoG authorities maintain that the Russian army and 
Ossetian separatist militia deliberately targeted the 
civilian population of Georgian villages in the Didi Liakhvi 
valley, the Patara Liakhvi valley and the Frone Valley in 
South Ossetia.  Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International
, 
and eyewitnesses report mass destruction of Georgian villages 
in these regions.  GoG authorities cite UNOSAT satellite 
images as clear evidence of the damage inflicted on Georgian 
villages around the city of Tskhinvali.  Government sources 
indicate as many as 40,000 Internally Displaced Persons, many 
of whom were forced out of ethnically Georgian villages south 
of Tskhinvali, may need long-term shelter in Gori, as ethnic 
Georgians are not being allowing to pass through Russian 
checkpoints to return to their homes.  Post has also received 
numerous reports of ethnic Georgians in South Ossetian 
villages being pressured to accept Russian passports, submit 
to Ossetian control, or leave.  The GoG has distributed a 
summary of its ethnic cleansing allegations in a report 
entitled "The Facts on Ethnic Cleansing of Georgians by the 
Russian Army."  (Text forwarded to EUR/CARC.) 
TEFFT

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