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Army officers questioned by War Commission

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, October 29
Senior commanders of the Georgian Army have been questioned by the Temporary Parliamentary Commission studying the August conflict. As with the previous sessions, parts of these, on October 28, were televised by Georgian TV stations.

Brigadier-General Mamuka Kurashvili was the head of Georgian peacekeeping forces during the war. Kurashvili’s statement made on the night the conflict started, August 8, that Georgia was going to “restore constitutional order” in breakaway South Ossetia has been used against Georgia many times by the media, mostly Russian, which maintain that Georgia started the war through it military aggression against South Ossetia. General Kurashvili said that he made this statement soon after being slightly injured in a Russian air strike, and that the statement was therefore hasty and “impulsive.” He also said it had not been agreed with the main military HQ. Kurashvili described the environment in which he had made that remark to a journalist and said “I had just come from battle when a journalist approached me... I was confused.”

“The statement was not prepared; I was not ready and made an impulsive statement. If I had been prepared I would have made a different statement,” Kurashvili said, and added that he had been reprimanded by the Defence Ministry for making it. “Why, even the Russian General did not respond to these words, because he knew I was unwell and checked this information with State Minister [on reintegration issues Temur] Iakobashvili,'' Kurashvili said. “He is the first Georgian official among those who made decisions during the August war to admit that he made a mistake,” said member of the War Commission Levan Vephkhvadze to Georgian journalist after the session.

Mamuka Kurashvili also confirmed that the August operation had been conducted to “resist Russian aggression.” He said that provocations had been actively conducted in the region since March 2008 and the situation had become extremely tense after August 1st, when a vehicle containing Georgian policemen was blown up in the conflict zone and the positions of Georgian peacekeepers and houses in Georgian villages in South Ossetia were actively shelled.

On being asked about the claim that Russian peacekeeping forces were bombed during the conflict, one of the reasons given by Russia to justify its invasion of Georgia, Kurashvili said that Russian troop positions were bombed by the Russians themselves. “I witnessed with my own eyes Russian aviation striking their own [Russian peacekeepers’] checkpoints,” said the General. Kurashvili stated that he was fulfilling the order of the Chief Commander of the main military HQ, General Zaza Gogava, and his mission was to “ensure the security of the Georgian and Ossetian population” of South Ossetia.

General Gogava himself was also questioned on October 28, and was asked about the interference of civilian officials in the activity of the military HQ during the war. He was also asked to explain the deployment of Georgian Reserve Forces, which has been subject of many discussions in Georgian society. The Reserve, consisting mostly of youths, was transported to the conflict zone but didn’t participate in battles. Many reservists have reported misunderstandings, problems with the command and obtaining supplies. He was delivering his answers as this newspaper went to print.

Kurashvili and Gogava are the latest in a string of Georgian officials who have been called for questioning since October 25. The National Security chief and the Foreign Minister are among those who have testified to date.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has told Russian newspaper Kommersant that the Temporary Parliamentary Commission is not the official body which will study the causes of the war. He maintained that the EU is going to participate in an “international commission” on the subject, consisting of “a group of politicians, intellectuals and lawyers” and chaired by an unnamed “Swiss lady.” The French Foreign Minister said that he hoped both Russia and Georgia would cooperate with this new commission and “open up their archives.” He said that a refusal to cooperate would result in international condemnation.

“The commission will meet with Defence Ministers and Presidents. I do not know whether Mr. Medvedev will agree, but why should he refuse to cooperate with the investigation?” Kouchner said.