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Daily Archives: September 9, 2008

UN court starts hearing into Georgia – Russia dispute

Georgia accused Russia yesterday of a long-running and continuing campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in its territory, urging the UN's highest court to order an urgent halt to the alleged abuses.
"This case is about the ethnic cleansing of Georgians and other minorities in Georgian territory," counsel James Crawford argued for Georgia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, at the start of three days of hearings.
Georgia is seeking urgent protection measures from the court in its showdown with Moscow over the Russian-backed rebel Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"Ethnic Georgians have been targeted and forcibly expelled from these regions … and denied the right to return for more than a decade," said Crawford.
"There has been burning of houses, murder of civilians, looting of property," he said, adding more than 150,000 Georgians became internally displaced since Russia launched a military campaign there a month ago.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council Valery Loshchinin separately accused Georgia of ethnic cleansing in remarks to the council in Geneva yesterday, as well as of spreading false information.
He said Russia had intervened to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe" with Russian citizens being murdered, before being called to order by the council's president for addressing an issue unrelated to the discussion om the agenda.
Besides the stop order against alleged Russian violence, Georgia also wants an order by the Hague court compelling Russia to allow the return of refugees to South Ossetia, Abkhazia and adjacent "occupied" areas.
Russian troops entered Georgia last month to push back Georgian forces attempting to regain control of South Ossetia, the Moscow-backed region that broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s.
Russia later halted a five-day offensive, but has failed to withdraw all its troops from Georgian territory. It has since recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Georgian rebel region, as independent states.
Payam Akhavan, another lawyer for the Georgian team, told the court that violence against ethnic Georgians continued despite the ceasefire.
Communities at risk of "further ethnic cleansing" included those residing in the Gali district of Abkhazia, and Gori and Akhalgori in South Ossetia, he said.
"The ethnic Georgian populations are now isolated and the Georgian government has no means of protecting them. The ethnic-based boundaries of the separatist republics are being literally burnt onto the map," he said.
Georgia's First Deputy Minister of Justice Tina Burjaliani said Russia was using racial hatred and violence as instruments of subjugation.
"Georgia still lives under the shadow of a vastly more powerful neighbour (pursuing) a policy of divide and conquer … that has brought great suffering to its victims," Burjaliani told the panel of 15 judges.
The first European diplomats to be allowed into a Russian-controlled buffer zone near South Ossetia expressed concerns Sunday about "possible ethnic cleansing."
Georgia instituted proceedings against Russia before the ICJ on August 12, accusing Moscow of breaches of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
As it can take months for the court to decide whether or not to entertain the case, Georgia brought another application asking for interim protection measures.
It is this matter that will be argued over the next three days, with a decision expected within weeks.
Russia was to place its arguments before the court later yesterday.


Ruling MPLA savours Angola win as count continues

by Fran Blandy*

Angola's ruling MPLA savoured yesterday an overwhelming victory in the country's first peacetime election, even with a quarter of the votes still to be counted.
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola had won 81.6 percent of the vote, to the opposition UNITA's 10 percent, with three-quarters of the votes counted by early afternoon, according to the electoral commission.
Final results in the oil-rich country's first elections for 16 years were expected late yesterday.
Regardless, the state-owned Jornal de Angola headlined "MPLA eliminates the competition," as the party, in power for three decades, claimed victory after a chaotic poll.
"The results are in line with out expectations," MPLA spokesman Norberto dos Santos told the newspaper.
International observers were divided over the vote with African election monitors saying the vote was "free and fair" while a European Union observer said he had personally witnessed intimidation and misuse of government resources.
EU monitors were expected to give their verdict on the election at a news conference in Luanda later yesterday.
Speaking on the phone from Brussels Richard Howitt, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, said he witnessed "pressure on voters" and "huge and serious misuse of government resources".
"I was in Cabinda on election day observing the opening of polling stations, there were three ranks of soldiers lined up inside the school play ground and voters had to pass through them to get to the voting station," said Howitt.
"To me that was a very blatant example of pressure put on voters."
However, monitors from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) said the vote was "peaceful, free, transparent and credible" and reflected "the will of the people".
The head of the African Union observer team, Benjamin Bounkoulou, also said the poll was "free, democratic and transparent," and logistic glitches in Luanda "cannot compromise the election."
Opposition parties have slammed the disorder in the elections that got off to a rocky start on Friday, saying there had been many irregularities that impeded the transparency of the process.
Voting in the first elections since a 27-year civil war ended in 2002 began on Friday but had to be extended to Saturday because of delays and a lack of election registers in many polling stations.
UNITA (Union for the Total Independence of Angola) has already lodged a complaint with the national electoral commission, and leader Isaias Samakuva on Sunday threatened to take the matter to the constitutional court.
The party's rejection of the results of the last election held in 1992 during a lull in the war, plunged Angola back into conflict that raged for another decade.
Smaller opposition parties have also protested.
The parliamentary elections were seen as a popularity test for veteran leader dos Santos ahead of presidential elections slated for next year.
MPLA spokesman Norberto dos Santos said the victory was due to the dedication of the party's three million supporters.
"In every neighbourhood, in every village our supporters are there nearly every day like a priest at a Sunday service," he told the Jornal de Angola.
The south-western African nation has a booming economy that stems from vast oil and diamond riches which have fuelled double-digit growth.
However, more than two-thirds of its people remain mired in poverty, living on less than two dollars a day.