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Rights Groups Say Looting, Fires Still Raging In South Ossetia

A schoolboy waves from the window of Tskhinvali's bombed-out School No. 5.

Neither South Ossetia's local government nor the Russian Army are providing adequate security for citizens in the breakaway territory after last month's Russia-Georgia war, rights groups said today.

Representatives of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and the Russian group Memorial were reporting on a trip to the province, which until the conflict was a patchwork of South Ossetian and ethnic Georgian villages.

"South Ossetian authorities are not ensuring the defense of property of residents of Georgian enclave villages or the safety of people remaining there," said Alexander Cherkasov of Memorial. "Currently the [ethnic] Georgian villages we visited...are practically burnt to the ground. Now, a month after military operations, the final houses are being torched, and every day we saw new fires.

"Danger remains not just for Georgian and mixed families, but for Ossetian villagers as well from looters who, sensing their impunity, steal and torch not just what belongs to Georgians, but any abandoned home," Cherkasov added.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said checkpoints first established by the Russian Army to stop looting had initially worked, but as they were removed armed irregulars returned to continue their raids on civilians.

"Russian troops set up block posts and were able to prevent the death of hundreds of ethnic Georgians at the time. Unfortunately this is no longer happening," Lokshina said.

Lokshina said during the visit to South Ossetia they saw armed irregulars looting furniture, fixtures, and valuables from homes in the area.

"The enclaves are still burning, and they made no attempt to hide it," she said.


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