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Daily Archives: November 29, 2008

Saakashvili defends decision to attack South Ossetia

President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday rejected criticism over Georgia's August attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia, saying it was necessary to ensure the security of his country.
"Yes, we decided to undertake military actions in Tskhinvali," he said in testimony before a parliamentary probe into the conflict, referring to the South Ossetian capital.
"We took this decision, it was a difficult decision that any responsible government would have taken to ensure the security of its citizens," he said.
Saakashvili has in recent weeks come under mounting criticism at home and abroad for his decision to send troops into South Ossetia, only to see them routed by Russian forces.
This week Georgia's former ambassador to Moscow accused Tbilisi of planning for a war over its rebel regions months before the conflict with Russia over South Ossetia broke out in August.
Saakashvili said the decision to launch an assault on South Ossetia was made after nearby Georgian villages came under "heavy bombardment" from South Ossetia and from the vicinity of Russian peacekeeping positions in the region.
He said "hundreds of (Russian) tanks and heavy vehicles" were on the border with Georgia and there was clear evidence that they had already started moving into the country on the August night that Tbilisi launched the attack.
"Under these conditions, if you ask me whether Georgia had to undertake military actions against these firing positions, the answer is yes," Saakashvili said.
His appearance came after Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Georgia's former envoy to Russia, claimed before the commission this week that Tbilisi had been planning assaults on South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, for months.
Kitsmarishvili, who was ambassador to Moscow in the months before the war, also alleged that senior officials in Tbilisi believed they had received a green light from Washington to launch an assault.
His testimony drew angry reactions from pro-government lawmakers in the commission, with one member throwing a pen at him and charging towards him.
He resumed his attacks on the government Friday, telling journalists that Georgian authorities could have avoided the war but failed.
"I believe that the myth cultivated by the authorities that the war was unavoidable… is untrue," he said in televised remarks. "There was a possibility to avoid the war and to normalise our relations with Russia."
Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia on August 8 to repel the Georgian attack on South Ossetia, which had received extensive backing from Moscow for years.
Russian forces occupied swathes of the country, but later withdrew to within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow simultaneously recognised as independent states.
Georgia and Russia have exchanged accusations over who started the war, with Moscow saying Tbilisi launched an unprovoked assault on South Ossetia and Georgia saying it was defending Georgian villages from attacks by separatists.

Regional court rules 78 white Zimbabwean farmers can keep land

by Brigitte Weidlich*

A southern African tribunal ruled Friday that 78 white Zimbabweans can keep their farms because Harare's land reform scheme discriminated against them.
Judge Luis Mondlane, president of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal, said Zimbabwe had violated the treaty governing the 15-nation regional bloc by trying to seize the white-owned farms.
President Robert Mugabe's government "is in breach of the SADC treaty with regards to discrimination," Mondlane said, in a ruling seen as a test of the new tribunal's influence.
"The 78 applicants have a clear legal title (for their farms) and were denied access to the judiciary locally," he said.
Three of the 78 farmers have already been forced from their land, and the court ruled that Zimbabwe had also violated the treaty by failing to pay them fair compensation, he said.
For the remaining 75 farmers, Mondlane ordered Zimbabwe's government "to take all measures to protect the possessions and ownership" of their land.
"No actions may be taken by insurgents and others to interfere with or disturb the peaceful activities of the remaining 75 applicants," he said.
The verdict is the first major ruling by the court since it first convened in April last year.
By treaty, the court's rulings are binding, but Zimbabwe did not immediately say if it would comply.
Zimbabwe's ambassador to Namibia, Chipo Zindoga, said the government did not yet have a formal response to the ruling, but warned the verdict could interfere in the country's controversial land reforms.
Eight years ago Zimbabwe began seizing white-owned farms to resettle them with landless blacks, but the chaotic programme was plagued by deadly violence and some farms ended up in the hands of cronies of President Robert Mugabe.
"The resettled farmers will be perplexed and alarmed that this ruling will interfere with the land reform," Zindoga said.
The group of white farmers was led by William Michael Campbell, who filed the case last December to seek court relief "from a continued onslaught of invasions and intimidation," according to court papers.
"I am overwhelmed," a tearful but joyful Campbell said minutes after the ruling, after exchanging hugs with fellow farmers and his lawyers.
"The judgement is historic, the end of a very long legal battle. I call on all SADC leaders to see to it that the rule of law is respected in SADC and that peace prevails in Zimbabwe and we all can farm," Campbell's son-in-law Ben Freeth told AFP.
Chris Jarrett, vice chairman of the Southern African Commercial Farmers Alliance, said he hoped that Zimbabwe would respect the ruling.
"Today's ruling does not just stop here, it will affect the whole of the SADC region. It sends a precedent for the African continent," Jarrett said.
The SADC tribunal was created as part of a peer review mechanism within the organisation. It aims to ensure the objectives of SADC's founding treaty, including human rights and property rights, are upheld.
If it is respected, the ruling could influence land reforms other countries around southern Africa.
In Zimbabwe and many neighbouring countries, white settlers took most of the best farmland during colonial times. Now African nations face a dilemna in how to bring black farmers back onto the land without disrupting food production.
Zimbabwe gave much of its land to inexperienced farmers and provided them little support, causing an enormous drop in food production that critics say is at the root of current shortages.