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Russians Press Ahead With Georgia Offensive

Reports of Russian violence and looting a day after French-brokered ceasefire.
By IWPR Reporters
Witnesses in Georgia on August 13 reported Russian forces were continued their offensive, despite both sides' acceptance of a peace plan



There were reports of violence and looting by Russian soldiers and South Ossetian fighters in and around the northern town of Gori, a day after the truce brokered by France.



Talking to reporters in Tbilisi, President Mikheil Saakashvili said, “Russian tanks have advanced since morning, and moved into the town Gori. They have destroyed buildings, blown up and rampaged through houses. There has been looting by Russian troops, shooting at some people, theft of furniture, computers, everything valuable.”



“They are now on the main road leading from West to East… They have cut Georgia in half… The capital is now in some sort of economic blockade.”



It was far from clear what was behind the Russian military moves and to what extent they were being coordinated in Moscow.



An eyewitness described to IWPR an incident on the evening of August 12 when a minibus carrying civilians from Tbilisi to Zugdidi was fired on from the air, killing 13 of the 17 people inside.



“We heard the noise of planes, two planes flew over us and dropped bombs,” Gia, one of the survivors, told IWPR, asking for his surname not to be given. “The bombs didn’t hit us, but then they fired on us from the air. A young girl was sitting next to me, a man behind me. They both died. When I looked back everyone was dead.”



Reports were being heard from villages near Gori of Russian looting, but it was hard to get reliable information on mobile phones.



A Turkish journalist, speaking by telephone to Georgian public television, said that there were a lot of Russian soldiers looting in the village of Karaleti outside Gori.



“We have received reports about serious violence in this region, there is information that villages are being burned and innocent citizens killed,” said United States assistant secretary of state Matt Bryza. “I am not there, I am in Tbilisi but we are sure of the reliability of these reports and within the next few minutes and hours we will try to confirm this information.”



In the port of Poti on the Black Sea on August 13, the Russian military blew up three coastguard ships belonging to the Georgian border department in the full view of journalists. A ship given to the department by the Bulgarian government was also destroyed. The day before, several Gerogian vessels had been sunk out at sea.



The first Russian soldiers landed in Poti on August 11 and were in the town by late evening. At first, they searched the offices of security agencies in the town and went to military bases, police stations and the railway. They met no resistance.



Most of the population and many of the police are said to have fled the town for the neighbouring region of Guria, one of the few parts of Georgia which did not come under Russian attack.



Russian troops left Poti on the morning of August 13.



However, there were reports of continuing Russian military advances in other parts of western Georgia. An IWPR correspondent said Russian troops had captured the Inguri hydro-electric power station on the administrative border with Abkhazia.



Two officials in the district administration in the nearby town of Zugdidi confirmed the report.



“So far [the soldiers] are not behaving aggressively towards us, but we were told that if we want to live in peace we’d better take Russian passports,” said a villager in Jvari near the border with Abkhazia.



Lasha Zarginava is an IWPR contributor.