Rights Group: Less Than 100 Civilians Killed in Georgian War

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MOSCOW — Fewer than 100 civilians died in Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia during last month’s war, human rights activists said yesterday — a far smaller number than Russian and South Ossetian officials have claimed.

A Russian researcher for the America-based group Human Rights Watch who visited the region, Tatiana Lokshina, said trips to a hospital, a cemetery, and conversations with residents failed to corroborate claims by Russia and its South Ossetian allies that thousands of civilians were killed in the region.

During and immediately after last month’s war, Russian officials repeated South Ossetian authorities’ claim that 1,500 and even up to 2,000 civilians were killed in the war. Later, however, Russian prosecutors launched a probe into civilian deaths and have refrained from comment until their investigation is complete.

“I don’t understand where the number of 1,500 comes from,” Ms. Lokshina told reporters.

“Thank God, civilian deaths are not measured in thousands,” she said, adding that the number of civilians who died appeared to be “fewer than 100.”

Ms. Lokshina said it was impossible to determine the precise number of casualties at this point.

She said the 1,500 civilian deaths presented by South Ossetian’s separatist authorities appeared to have included local militants as well as some wounded civilians who might have been taken by retreating Georgian troops to Georgia proper for treatment.

A spokesman of Russia’s leading rights group, Memorial, who also visited the region, Alexander Cherkasov, said the number of dead civilians is usually not higher than the number of wounded. He said 273 civilians were officially registered as wounded in the main hospital in South Ossetia.

Georgian authorities said 169 Georgian military and police and 69 civilians had been killed in the five-day war in August. The Russian military said 74 Russian servicemen died in fighting.

Russian and South Ossetian authorities have accused Georgia of masterminding a genocide of South Ossetians during the conflict, which started August 7 when Georgian government forces launched an offensive to regain control over South Ossetia. Russian forces repelled the offensive and pushed deep into Georgia.

[Also yesterday, Russia, which fought a five-day war with neighboring Georgia last month, will boost defense spending 26% to a post-Soviet record next year as it adds weapons and raises salaries, the Russian finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, said, according to Bloomberg News.

Defense spending, including arms purchases and pay raises, will reach $50 billion in 2009, Mr. Kudrin told lawmakers in Moscow yesterday. The increase was approved before the conflict with Georgia, said Mr. Kudrin, who is also a deputy prime minister.]


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