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Rights groups warn of possible war crimes in Georgia republic breakaway region

[JURIST] International human rights groups on Saturday condemned any violence Russian or Georgian forces might commit against civilians in the separatist region of South Ossetia [BBC backgrounder], warning that those actions may amount to war crimes. After a period of smaller conflicts, on Friday the Republic of Georgia [official backgrounder; JURIST news archive] announced that to restore constitutional order, it was launching a large scale military offensive [NY Times report] in the region, which broke away from Georgia following a 1991-1992 war. On Saturday, Russia sent troops [BBC report] into South Ossetia in what it called a mission to protect civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] Europe and Central Asia Director Holly Cartner stated [press release]:

All sides must remember that attacks on civilians, or acts intended to terrorize civilians, clearly violate international humanitarian law, and may constitute war crimes. This would be true even if they are carried out in reprisal for indiscriminate attacks by the adversary.
The International Crisis Group [official website] issued a similar statement [text], calling on both sides to end the conflict and uphold humanitarian law. Reuters has more.

After South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in 1991, violence in the region continued until the following year, when an agreement was reached to deploy peacekeepers from Georgia, Russia, and South Ossetia itself. There was a lull in the conflict until Mikhail Saakashvili [official website] became president of Georgia in 2004, and announced his intentions to bring breakaway regions back under Georgian control. Analysts say the current fighting marks the continuing deterioration [JURIST report] in Georgian-Russian relations. Recent conflicts have included accusations by Georgian authorities [JURIST report] that Russia instigated protests calling for an overthrow of the government last November, and allegations of Russia's role in a coup plot [JURIST report] in August 2007.

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