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U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) has sent a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, expressing its concern over the impending termination of radio broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America (VOA) on local frequencies.

As the letter notes, Nusiravan Maharramli, the head of the Azerbaijan National TV and Radio Council, has justified this step by pointing to a 2002 law that restricts such frequencies to Azerbaijani broadcasters.

"Azerbaijan's many daily listeners rely on these programs for up-to-date, objective information," the Helsinki letter states. "Moreover, as Azerbaijan moves increasingly toward integration with the West, RFE/RL and VOA supply a model of media professionalism, as well as the sort of impartial and innovative programming Azerbaijan's citizens need to remain informed, engaged and competitive.

"Instead of closing down FM broadcasts of RFE/RL and VOA," the letter continues, "we would like to see Azerbaijan developing a more diverse, pluralistic media environment."

It says ending the broadcasts would also send the wrong signal if Azerbaijan has a desire to strengthen U.S.-Azerbaijani relations with President-elect Barack Obama.

The letter was signed by the chairman of the Helsinki Commission, U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, and ranking minority member Representative Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey.
Russian soldiers in the South Ossetia capital, Tskhinvali, in August

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling for immediate steps by Russia to stop South Ossetian militias from attacking ethnic Georgians in the Akhalgori district.

Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of HRW's Moscow office, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service today that many ethnic Georgians have left their villages in South Ossetia due to the "inappropriate behavior of South Ossetian militias."

Lokshina, who recently returned from South Ossetia, says Russian troops are doing nothing to protect the human rights of the local population.

"One of the most critical problems that we witnessed in South Ossetia is the problem of ethnic Georgian villages that have been burned down and pillaged completely," Lokshina told RFE/RL. "And people who have been forced out of those villages have nowhere to return to. In some villages, there remain literally two or three old men who are fully dependant on the Red Cross."

"Marauders wander the area incessantly," she continued. "And I must say they [rob] not only ethnic Georgians, but also mixed Georgian- Ossetian families and even ethnic Ossetians who live in Georgian villages."

In a statement, HRW said that the militias are "running wild" in the Akhalgori district, in South Ossetia, and have injured Georgian civilians.

She added that not enough has been done to give shelter to citizens of South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, who lost their homes during the Russian-Georgian military conflict in August.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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