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Interview: Breakaway Region's Leader Says South Ossetia 'Building Independence'

Eduard Kokoity says South Ossetia is "grateful" to Russia, but intends to maintain its independence.

Eduard Kokoity says South Ossetia is "grateful" to Russia, but intends to maintain its independence.

Eduard Kokoity, the leader of South Ossetia, has denied speculation that the breakaway Georgian region will merge into Russia.

Kokoity sat down in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz with RFE/RL Echo of the Caucasus correspondent Oleg Kusov to discuss the future of the region, his government's work to rebuild its tattered infrastructure, and local politics.

RFE/RL: Inside Russia and abroad people have been discussing the future of South Ossetia. Some are saying that a possible scenario is the unification with North Ossetia in the Russian Federation. Others speak of South Ossetia as developing as an independent state.

Eduard Kokoity:
The people of South Ossetia conducted a referendum on this topic and expressed themselves clearly and precisely. And it is not by chance that the Republic of South Ossetia was recognized as an independent state. This is logical. And that is why we are now building our independence, a free state.

We are obliged and grateful to the Russian Federation. Russia is our main strategic partner and this has been the case for many centuries. Today Russia is doing everything it can so that South Ossetia can get up on its feet on its own as an independent state.

Of course, there are a lot of people who want to accuse Russia of annexing foreign territory, but nothing remotely like that is going on here. Russia today is establishing interstate relations with us, is signing interstate agreements. States that are trying to annex foreign territory -- like many in the West suppose -- never sign such high-level interstate agreements or strictly fulfill them. So we are now building an independent Republic of South Ossetia.

RFE/RL: Let's talk about reconstruction work. Some -- particularly in the opposition -- are saying that no such work is going on.

As far as the so-called opposition is concerned -- the opposition is within South Ossetia. But there is also a handful of offended people who use the pages of various newspapers here and in Russia to present themselves as an opposition -- they are practically all former South Ossetia bureaucrats who failed to cope with their direct responsibilities. These are offended people.

As for the reconstruction of South Ossetia, this work is proceeding. Perhaps not at the tempo that a lot of people would like, definitely. There are some people who, if you listen to them, think it was possible to reconstruct South Ossetia in two months. Others said it could be done in a year.

But this state -- its entire infrastructure -- was destroyed over the course of 20 years. We aren't talking about a five-day war. Practically all the documentation was destroyed. So we are restoring all this today. We are approaching this matter in a very comprehensive way. But today we see efforts to discredit the leadership of South Ossetia, to accuse them of embezzlement -- this is being done by dishonest people.

Practically all of South Ossetia has been turned into one big construction site. We are restoring residential housing. The house and housing that we are building now in South Ossetia for our citizens are significantly more modern and have more living space and better conveniences. We aren't talking about one-room flats with an entrance hall and a toilet. We are building practically complete, attractive, and modern European housing.

Second, we are practically building all utilities from scratch. This is because the utilities date from 1957, from the days of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 1957, they have not been renovated. We now have to create the electrical grid. We are building roads.

But these things are hard to publicize -- they aren't very glamorous. For instance, we reworked some enormous hills in order to build a road in the Leningorsky region. This year we will begin construction of roads in the Naursky region and road construction in Kvaisa. In order to expand and improve the state economy as a whole, we have to undertake some serious projects, including international ones.

Of course, this primarily means with the Russian Federation and today we are preparing to sign off on a series of projects, including providing for trade relations with the Russian Federation, customs relations. This will help develop the economy of South Ossetia as a whole.

Russian Connections

RFE/RL: There was a lot of noise recently when a Russian news agency reported that Vadim Brovtsev, the Russian businessman who heads the South Ossetian government, plans to resign.

I really don't even want to comment on that, since Vadim Brovtsev and I have very good relations. He is an excellent professional. This report is the desire of many people who do not want the best for South Ossetia. It is an effort by people to create tension between the Russian Federation and South Ossetia, for the most part. After all, it was because of my request to the Russian Federation that this Russian specialist was chosen to head the government of South Ossetia.

Since financing is coming from the Russian Federation, we are very interested that Russia itself exercise control over those funds. And in the very near future, specialists from the Audit Chamber of Russia will be invited in order to lay to rest all these rumors.

The constant visits to us and the complete understanding and support of the leadership of the Russian Audit Chamber are evidence that the leadership of South Ossetia has nothing to hide. We are working absolutely honestly. There are efforts to smear us, to discredit us, first of all, in the eyes of the Russian public. But we won't let these forces do that.

As far as Vadim Brovtsev is concerned, he has made no such statements. Our most recent meeting with the presidium of the parliament showed that the government and the legislature of South Ossetia are ready to work together constructively.

'Laughable' Rights Activist

RFE/RL: Another story that is getting a lot of attention in the media is the arrest on arms-possession charges of the human rights activist Fatima Margiyeva, editor of the newspaper "Pozitsiya."

I think it is laughable to consider such people human rights activists. If a mother rejects her own children, can she be a human rights activist?

I have had dealings with Margiyeva for a long time, going back to when she practically took for herself the funds that I personally transferred to her to organize an intellectual club for students. Is there in South Ossetia an intellectual club for students created under the project of the president of South Ossetia with funds transferred to Margiyeva? Of course not.

Then they found in her house -- not again because of some order from the top -- such an arsenal in her home. And suddenly she becomes a human rights advocate. There is the law -- and this is not a question of the president, a question for the president. There is the law and the justice system. The justice system will sort this out.

And every criminal tries to turn themselves into some sort of great human rights activist or some sort of great opposition figure, primarily to attract attention to themselves and also to discredit us, of course. Margiyeva has violated the law many times. Even when she had signed a pledge not to leave the country without informing judicial authorities, she repeatedly traveled beyond the borders of South Ossetia.

As far as civil society in South Ossetia is concerned, that civil society is pretty solid and serious. In this regard, I will completely support nongovernmental organizations. But on the other hand, there are some leaders of so-called nongovernmental organizations who start saying all sorts of nonsense like that they are paying taxes to the budget of the republic of South Ossetia. Sometimes this is even funny.

I will definitely gather them all together. I just feel ashamed for them when they are lying in front of the whole world. The president has a special state adviser on work with nongovernmental organizations. And those nongovernmental organizations who meet us halfway, who work with us, they are satisfied and they don't have any problems. We will support them. We don't want nongovernmental organizations to be, as we call them today, "controlled." We want them to be involved in all spheres. I just would urge everyone to observe basic decency, that's all.

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