Ossetians Happily Loot Village

APSmoke rising from a fire in the village of Kekhvi, 15 kilometers north of Tskhinvali, in South Ossetia, on Saturday.
KEKHVI, Georgia -- A chicken pecks at the charred corpse of man lying near a house that, like every other dwelling in Kekhvi, has been burned down.

Scenes of grotesque desolation mark this village in Georgia, yet it is a popular destination for at least one group: Looters in trucks and cars are still coming to take whatever they can find.

Most of Kekhvi's people fled as Russian troops advanced from South Ossetia into Georgia proper two weeks ago. The few who stayed now can do little but watch in fear as Ossetian men plunder, driven by opportunism and revenge.

"This is not looting, this is trophies," said Garik Meriyev, 32, a stubbled South Ossetian dressed in camouflage pants, black baseball cap and dusty jackboots.

He and four other men in similar clothes loaded their yellow Russian-made minibus Saturday with metal pipes, timber and bricks taken from a burned down house.

"All of this will be destroyed anyway," he said. "But now these things will serve me."

Other groups of Ossetian men were seen taking out cutlery, electronics, blankets, food and even Orthodox icons.

The orchards around Kekhvi are full of peach trees, and some looters said they came specifically to harvest them. They called it retribution for wilting fields in the separatist province of South Ossetia, where they said the water supply was disrupted by the advancing Georgian army.

Authorities in the breakaway province said police were cracking down on looters. South Ossetia's top police official, Mikhail Mindzayev, said he had two looters shot dead Thursday.

He said police have instituted a policy whereby if they catch someone with a car or truck loaded with furniture or TV sets, and the driver does not seem to be the rightful owner, both the goods and the car are burned.