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Strong words from OSCE Commissioner to De-Facto Ossetian government

By Ernest Petrosyan
Friday, August 24
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, called on the de-facto leadership of the breakaway South Ossetia to clarify a statement indicating that it plans to demolish ethnic-Georgian villages, settled mainly by ethnic Georgians prior to the August 2008 War, says the OSCE official web-page.

“Such plans, if carried out, would eradicate what little remains of these ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia,” he said. Vollebaek also requested that the de-facto leadership and authorities in control of this area clarify their intentions towards these ethnic-Georgian villages," Vollebaek said in a statement on August 22, referring the decision of the de-facto regime to remove the remains of the ruined and abandoned houses.

“The houses still belong to the original inhabitants of these villages and they should not be demolished. Under international law, the displaced people have a right to return to their homes and their property should be respected,” he said.

"I call on the de-facto leadership and relevant authorities in control of this area to respect the property rights of displaced persons and to fulfill their obligations under international law,” he said. "Statements calling for the complete demolition of villages traditionally inhabited by ethnic-Georgians are provocative in this highly volatile region and, if actually carried out, could result in there being no ethnic-Georgians left in South Ossetia. Apart from being a potentially criminal act, such a step will certainly constitute an impediment to peace and stability in the region,” High Commissioner concluded.

Since hostilities ended in 2008, few ethnic-Georgians have returned to their homes in South Ossetia due to concerns over security.

The High Commissioner has long been concerned with the situation of the ethnic-Georgian population who remained in South Ossetia. His most recent visit was in November 2010, after which he reiterated his concerns to the OSCE Permanent Council. Vollebaek expressed hope to visit South Ossetia in the near future to learn more about the conditions on the ground and to discuss the situation with the new leadership in Tskhinvali.

A week ago, the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia reported that areas occupied by Georgian villages before the August 2008 War, which are now in ruins, will be cleaned up to give way for agriculture and industrial development and will never be used as settlements, according to breakaway South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov.

Several villages close to the breakaway region's capital, Tskhinvali, mainly in the north, were making a Georgian-controlled enclave within South Ossetia before the August 2008 War. These villages, among them Tamarasheni, Zemo Achabeti, Kvemo Achabeti, Kurta and Kekhvi, were looted and torched during the weeks after the war.

Tbilisi assessed this initiative as the continuation of ethnic cleansing in occupied territory and imposed all the responsibility for it on Moscow.

“It is very important that all the responsibility falls not just on the puppet regime, but also on Moscow. Moscow is the occupier, and it controls the whole process taking place in the occupied regions today. Therefore, if this is implemented, the entire responsibility for this rests on the Russian side,” said the deputy foreign minister Kapanadze.

Dimitry Sanakoev, the head of the pro-Georgian Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia, as well as member of the Georgian delegation in the Geneva talks, also ties this initiative to the Kremlin.

“Firstly it violates the main principles of international law. Secondly, it jeopardizes the Geneva talks, in the framework of which, we inter alia discuss the issues of a dignified return of IDPs, and this statement proves once again that the Geneva talks are becoming gradually more senseless,” Sanakoev told The Messenger.