Tbilisi and Moscow Accused of War Crimes

Both sides in Russia's war with Georgia over the breakaway South Ossetia region committed numerous human rights violations, atrocities and noncombat killings during and after the brief August conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

In a 200-page report released Friday, the New York-based watchdog accused Russian authorities of connivance in abuses by South Ossetian militias that it said amounted to ethnic cleansing.

The report detailed what the rights group called the "indiscriminate and disproportionate" use of force by the Russian and Georgian militaries as well as separatist South Ossetian forces backed by Moscow.

"All sides displayed negligence toward international law," said Human Rights Watch researcher Tatyana Lokshina, who led a team that conducted nearly 500 interviews over several months.

She urged Russian and Georgian authorities to allow an independent and objective investigation and said the group's report has been passed to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Russian and Georgian authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Georgian officials cooperated with the Human Rights Watch effort, the report said. Russian officials, by contrast, did not respond to requests for information sent to the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry, Emergency Situations Ministry and presidential administration, it said.

Human Rights Watch said Georgian troops used "indiscriminate and excessive" force, including tank shellings of civilian homes and the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. Georgian authorities admitted the use of cluster bombs but claimed that they only targeted the military.

Russian forces bombed civilian targets, such as a hospital in the Georgian city of Gori, the report said. It said Russian forces also failed to provide security for civilians after the war, during what it called the "deliberate and systematic" destruction of ethnic Georgian villages by South Ossetian militias.

Lokshina said the group documented "massive" arson and looting, widespread beatings and torture of civilians by South Ossetian militias, as well as several rapes and killings of ethnic Georgians. It said there were cases in which Russian troops participated in looting.

Human Rights Watch said abuses by the militias amounted to deliberate ethnic cleansing and that Russia must share the blame.

During and immediately after the war, Russian officials repeated South Ossetian authorities' claim that up to 2,000 South Ossetian civilians were killed in the war. But by late December, Russian authorities had confirmed the death of 162 civilians.

"Russia should publicly admit it exaggerated the figures," Neistat said.

Georgian authorities have said 169 Georgian soldiers and police officers and 69 civilians were killed in the war. The Russian military said 74 Russian servicemen died.(Reuters, AP)