|South Ossetians direct ire at Europe|
|February 16, 2009|
By Alissa de Carbonnel
The memory of war in this tiny patch of farm country sunk in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains is long and violent. But the raw anger among South Ossetians huddled amid the freezing, roofless ruins of the recent war in separatist province is sharpened against a new antagonist.
Europeans might be stunned today to find the pained outrage here targeted at its ceasefire monitors - part of an EU-brokered peace pact that ended the five days of fighting between Russian and Georgia over the region in August.
Some is also stored up for a separate mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has patrolled the region since 1992. Like the European peacekeeper, those from the OSCE have been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.
Hysteric shouts greeted a small group of foreign journalists who tumbled out of a Russian-organized bus tour to the tightly-guarded region last week. Residents shuffled up, fists raised, from their seats where the spring sun had dried the mud in front of the village store, pock-marked with black holes from mortar shells.
'We are against Europe and the OSCE. How many people have to be killed - every summer - for them to see the truth?' Svetalana Bukhayeva hotly pressed journalists, confusing them with representatives of those bodies.
'What Georgia says is served up on a plate, but nobody listens to us. We don't understand. We have seen nothing good from life the last 20 years, but war and bombardment.
'Life stops with war,' she lamented, saying only three children have been born in the village of Khetagurvoa since South Ossetia threw off Tbilisi's rule in a war of succession in the early 1990s.
The Moscow-back South Ossetian leadership last week accused Georgia of firing two RPG-7 shells at the separatist's capital Tskhinvali and charged EU observers on the Georgian side of the ceasefire line with turning a blind eye to an alleged Georgian military buildup.
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said as much at a press conference Friday in Tskhinvali, where local and Russian media snapped as many pictures of foreign journalists as of Kokoity sitting in front of the Russian and South Ossetia flag.
'Where are the European observers looking?' he fumed.
Asked in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur under what conditions he would allow EU and Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) monitor access to South Ossetia, Kokoity said: 'They will never work here.
'Never because those organizations long ago compromised themselves. In the face of Georgian aggression they did nothing to save woman, children and the elderly.
'We don't trust these organizations. They have taken no responsibility. More than anything they fulfill the function of border markers,' Kokoity said.
The EU monitoring monitors (EUMM), in turn, say they found no evidence of Georgian troop concentrations near South Ossetia, or preparations for military action.
'Because of the South Ossetia claims we were able to carry out an investigation and concluded that there was no build up in Georgian forces,' EUMM spokesman Steve Bird told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by telephone Monday.
'We are an independent organization with a mandate - as we see it - to monitor the whole of the country (Georgia). We would welcome to investigate the claims in South Ossetia and see exactly what happened, if they allowed us,' he said.
The issue is to be one of many sticky points in the third round of Russia and Georgian peace talks in Geneva on Feb 17 and 18. Western governments say the presence of Tbilisi-based EU and OSCE monitors in and around South Ossetia could help prevent new hostilities.
But the United States and Europe do not recognize the independence of the tiny Caucasus region, which was considered an autonomous region of Georgia under the Soviet Union.
Moscow, meanwhile, wants to split the missions to reflect its recognition of South Ossetia statehood - a South Ossetian and Russian goal for 17 years - after quashing Georgia's bid to retake separatist territory.
Half a year after the conflict, the fresh anger here is underlined by a disappointed realization that - despite recognition by Russia - the state looks destined to remain locked in a strange de facto status quo, shakily dependent Moscow's aide.
No house in Khetaguraova, on the outskirts Tskhinvali, looked to have survived unscathed from the recent conflict. Blue-painted slogans stood bright against the rusted fences and black-charred walls: 'Thank you Russia' and 'Ossetia thanks its protectors.'
Larisa Tatayeva, a 39-year-old nurse, pointed through the shattered glass of the ill-equipped cabinet where she worked above the village store to where she ran to hide when the Georgian attack began: 'I had so much shrapnel in my skin it took hours to pick out in the light of the cellar.
'We had a lot of hope in Europe, but now we watch television and see they are only for Georgia,' she said, nervously fiddling with the blond tips of her hair now brown half-way to the roots. 'Russia saved us. We have hope in Russia and not anyone else.'
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