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Group: Russians drop cluster bombs in Georgia

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/08/15/georgia.rights/index.html Group: Russians drop cluster bombs in Georgia * Story Highlights * Human Rights Watch
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2008

      Group: Russians drop cluster bombs in Georgia

      * Story Highlights
      * Human Rights Watch says evidence Russia using cluster bombs in Georgia
      * Group calls on military forces to not strike at civilian areas
      * Hospital in Tskhinvali confirms treating wounded civilians
      * Humanitarian needs of 100,000 people growing, World Vision says

      (CNN) -- An international rights group said Friday it has evidence that Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in populated areas of Georgia, killing and injuring dozens of civilians during the territorial conflict that has gripped the region.
      Laskha Beruashvili, 9, kisses his stuffed bear at a Red Cross facility in the Georgian village of Tzheta.

      Laskha Beruashvili, 9, kisses his stuffed bear at a Red Cross facility in the Georgian village of Tzheta.
      more photos »

      Human Rights Watch said the bombs -- banned by 100 nations because of their record of maiming civilians, even after conflict has long finished -- were dropped over areas of Georgia, including the strategic town of Gori, killing 11.

      "Cluster bombs are indiscriminate killers that most nations have agreed to outlaw," HRW senior military analyst Marc Garlasco said in a statement.

      Dropped from the air of fired from the ground, the bombs break apart in flight to scatter hundreds of smaller bomblets for maximum impact.

      "Russia's use of this weapon is not only deadly to civilians but also an insult to international efforts to avoid a global humanitarian disaster of the kind caused by landmines," Garlasco added.

      Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations that it has targeted civilians in the conflict over Georgian breakaway provinces which it says it occupied to protect Russian citizens under attack from Georgian forces.

      In an earlier report HRW said forces for both Georgia and Russia appear to have caused civilian casualties through indiscriminate attacks in the towns of Gori and and Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway province South Ossetia.

      "Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian forces all have an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians from attack," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at the non-governmental organization.

      "The latest information on civilian casualties in Gori, Tskhinvali and surrounding areas calls into question whether the forces are respecting that obligation."

      An attack Tuesday morning on Gori's main square killed and wounded dozens of civilians, the organization said.

      The attack took place in front of the Municipality Administration building, where several dozen civilians had gathered to collect food distributed by local officials, it said.

      "Victims of the attack described to Human Rights Watch how they saw numerous small explosions within seconds before they fell to the ground," the group said. Video Watch international efforts to bring peace to the region »

      At least eight people were killed, including a Dutch journalist, it said, citing victims' accounts as its source. The wounded were taken to the Gori hospital, then to Tbilisi in the Georgian capital, the organization said.

      That day, 23 civilians from Gori -- many of them hurt in the attack -- were treated at the Gudushauri National Medical Center of Tbilisi, it said.

      Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed on Wednesday that Russian forces were in the area, it said.

      The organization said Gori was bombarded from August 9 through 12 by what must have been Russian airplanes. Learn more about the conflict in the region »

      It was unclear whether a military target was in the area, since the Georgian military reportedly had withdrawn from Gori the previous night, it said.

      Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia, was largely deserted when Human Rights Watch investigators entered it on Wednesday night, it said. There, they saw "numerous apartment buildings and houses damaged by shelling."

      "Some of them had been hit by rockets most likely fired from Grad launchers, weapons that should not be used in areas populated by civilians, as they cannot be directed at only military targets and are therefore inherently indiscriminate."

      Several buildings appeared to have been struck by heavy ammunition fired from tanks at close range, it said.

      Though Georgian and Russian forces use identical weaponry, Human Rights Watch said witnesses ascribed much of the damage to Georgian fire.

      A doctor at Tskhinvali Regional Hospital told Human Rights Watch that the hospital treated 273 wounded, both military and civilians between August 6 and August 12. In addition, 44 bodies -- civilian and military -- were taken to the hospital during the fighting, she said, according to the Human Rights Watch report.

      On Wednesday, Russian forces appeared to be attempting to prevent looting in Georgian villages, the group said. But that evening, while traveling from Tskhinvali to Java, the group's researchers reported seeing houses on fire in several Georgian villages.

      "They had clearly just been torched," the group said.

      A counterintelligence officer of the South Ossetian forces told the group, "We burned these houses. We want to make sure that they (the Georgians) can't come back, because if they do come back, this will be a Georgian enclave again and this should not happen."

      The officer said that, on Monday, Georgians killed two of his soldiers in the village of Tamarasheni.

      "We detained three of them," he said, according to the organization. "Two of them didn't do anything to us so we just let them go -- we couldn't take them anywhere as I had to take care of my own men first. The third one seemed to be high on something -- a normal person would have surrendered, and this one was shooting at us instead. We questioned him and then executed him."

      Another NGO, World Vision, said the humanitarian needs of the estimated 100,000 people who have fled the conflict were increasing.

      "People are continuing to arrive in North Ossetia by the busload, and many civilians are wounded," said Siobhan Kimmerle, World Vision's national director in the Russian Federation. "World Vision has also found that many families have been separated from their loved ones in the chaos."

      Citing Russian officials, it said more than 30,000 people have crossed into Russia from Georgia.
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