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Russia denounces Georgia’s ‘war criminal’ leader

A Russian envoy called on Nato to hold an extraordinary Russia-Nato council on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Georgia, accusing the Georgian president of war crimes.

”The Russian mission to Nato decided this morning to ask Nato officials to hold an extraordinary Russia-Nato council,” Russian ambassador to Nato Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Brussels on Monday.

”We insist that the meeting take place tomorrow [Tuesday],” when Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili is due to meet Nato’s North Atlantic council in Brussels, he added.

A Nato source confirmed that Russia had made the request but said no decision had yet been taken on holding such a meeting.

Russia jets staged raids and its forces moved deeper into Georgian territory on Monday, officials said, as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denounced the United States for helping Georgia.

Two European Union foreign ministers pressed efforts to broker a ceasefire deal but diplomatic tensions between Russia and the US held up efforts to pass a United Nations Security Council call for an end to the fighting over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russia and Georgia traded accusations that each was launching attacks, while aid agencies warned of a mounting humanitarian crisis, heightening urgency to international efforts to secure a halt to the fighting.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said more than 50 Russian warplanes had flown over Georgian territory. ”Tbilisi was bombed. Bombs hit the village of Kojori and Makhata mountain,” it said.

Georgian officials said Russian planes bombed radars at Tbilisi airport and civilian targets in the city of Gori.

Russian forces carried out military operations around the western city of Senaki to prevent Georgian troops from regrouping and heading back into South Ossetia, news agencies reported, quoting the Russian Defence Ministry.

A Russian military spokesperson said 9 000 troops and more than 350 armoured vehicles would be deployed to bolster forces inside the second Georgian separatist region of Abhkazia.

The South Ossetian separatist government said Georgia had resumed an artillery bombardment of its capital, Tskhinvali, where residents have reported many deaths.

The international Red Cross said it was getting increasing reports of civilian casualties from the conflict in South Ossetia and beyond.

‘Unacceptable’
As fighting intensified, US President George Bush, Georgia’s biggest Western ally, said he told Russia’s prime minister that Russia’s bombing of Georgia was ”unacceptable”.

”I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia,” the US president told NBC television from Beijing.

Putin responded by accusing the US of trying to disrupt the Russian military operation by transporting Georgian troops from Iraq into the ”conflict zone”.

”It seems that this will not change anything, but will move us away from resolving the situation,” said Putin, comparing the actions of Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili to war crimes perpetrated by deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

”Saddam Hussein, of course, needed to be hanged for destroying several Shi’ite villages,” Putin said. ”But [not] the current Georgian leadership, which in less than an hour drove tanks through children and old people, burned people alive in their homes. These leaders need to be protected!”

Russia’s military acknowledged it had lost 18 soldiers and four planes in the conflict but gave no details of its latest operations.

‘War criminal’
Rogozin, who held a hastily arranged press conference in the Belgian capital, said Russia will not deal with Saakashvili, describing him as a war criminal.

”Saakashvili is no longer a man that we can deal with,” Rogozin said.

”He must be punished for breaching international law. He is responsible for many war crimes,” he added. ”Georgian troops have violated international conventions. We are talking of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

Rogozin said Georgia’s military actions in South Ossetia constituted ”a pre-planned genocide”, citing the shooting of civilians and the blocking of medical aid.

Speaking of a ”humanitarian disaster”, he said the Georgian military action had left 250 civilians dead and ”completely destroyed” the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

”Russian citizens have been arrested. This is unacceptable,” Rogozin added.

The Russian ambassador asked for the Russia-Nato meeting to be called during talks earlier on Monday with Nato deputy secretary general Claudio Bisogniero.

The Nato-Russia meeting should be held at ambassador level, Rogozin added. ”If another format is needed that will be discussed.”

Georgian and Nato sources said earlier that Georgia’s foreign minister will meet Nato officials in Brussels on Tuesday at a special gathering of Nato’s North Atlantic council.

The meeting will ”give us an update on the situation and we also expect allies to assess the situation in Georgia following the appeal that the Nato secretary general repeated yesterday for an immediate ceasefire”, a Nato spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, about 300 Georgians protested near Russia’s EU mission calling for an end to the hostilities over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. The protesters unfurled Georgian flags and chanted ”Russia, state terrorist” and ”Putin, terrorist”.

Aid effort
France announced on Monday it was sending a planeload of humanitarian aid to Georgia, and the United Nations Food Programme said it had begun distributing aid over the weekend to thousands displaced by the country’s conflict with Russia.

The German government also said it would spend €1-million on humanitarian aid for the region.

The UN refugee agency on Monday said it was mounting an emergency airlift of relief supplies for victims of the South Ossetia conflict, with the first flight to leave overnight.

The first flight was scheduled to fly from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees’s central emergency stockpile in Dubai to Georgia, and would carry 20 000 blankets and other aid items. A second flight is planned to leave on Wednesday from Copenhagen.

The UNHCR said latest figures from Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate that about 30 000 people from South Ossetia have fled north to the region.

Meanwhile, Georgian officials report a few thousand people from South Ossetia have fled into Georgia, added the UN agency. — Sapa-AFP, Sapa-AP

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