Slack rebuilding angers battered South Ossetia

1st June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Russia vowed to plough hundreds of millions of dollars into the region of 50,000 people high in the Caucasus mountains after recognising South Ossetia's independence.

Tskhinvali -- The windows of the houses are still blown-out, rusting armaments are everyday objects in the streets and the only heating in a bitter winter came from wood-burning stoves.

Residents of Tskhinvali -- the "capital" of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia battered in the August war between Moscow and Tbilisi -- could be forgiven for wondering if anything has changed in the last nine months.

Russia vowed to plough hundreds of millions of dollars into the region of 50,000 people high in the Caucasus mountains after recognising South Ossetia's independence. But the legacy of the fighting remains all too apparent.

"Half of Tskhinvali is destroyed and nothing has been done. Russia sent money, but it's up to the government to build things," complained Nadar Sokhrebov, 70.

A GRAD rocket still leans propped against the wall of his stone house, gutted in the fighting. Since August, he has lived squeezed with 10 family members in a one-room cottage previously used for storage.

The sheared-off top of a tank has been left upright in the centre of the rebel capital Tskhinvali as a monument to the recent war.

In the city's old Jewish quarter -- an area rocked by the heaviest fighting after the Georgian assault on August 8 to restore its control over South Ossetia -- homes crumpled by rocket fire look as they did last summer.

As the region votes Sunday in legislative elections marked by the sidelining of the opposition to rebel president Eduard Kokoity, questions are mounting over what the local authorities have done with Moscow's money.

"Those who don't have their own means to rebuild are just waiting and waiting for when the government does something," said Anna Parastayeva, adding her husband had bought all the materials to patch up their own home.

"A fact is a fact -- people lived through the winter as if they were on the street, with it all leaking into their homes. That is what I saw," she sighed.

Only two days ago, some ruined houses were bulldozed in the authorities' first moves at housing reconstruction, residents said.

Russia has budgeted over 10 billion rubles (320 million dollars, 230 million euros) in postwar reconstruction funds to the region on top of subsidies put aside before the conflict in 2008.

Kokoity acknowledged that there were "specific problems" and the first phase of the reconstruction did not include private homes. But he insisted that the process was now on track.

"I think that by June 10, South Ossetia will be transformed into one huge construction site," he said.

South Ossetia -- backed by Moscow since it won de-facto autonomy in a first war in the early 1990s -- more than ever seems a Russian protectorate.

Other than Russia, the distant Central American state of Nicaragua is the only other country to have recognised the rebel region.

"True, I can travel to Nicaragua now, but I don't even have a home to go back to and there's no work there," taxi driver German Zaseyev said sarcastically.

Before, residents in this rural region depended on supplies bought in Georgia and could travel just one hour to Tbilisi for medical help.

Now their only outside link is a 120 kilometre (75 mile) drive to Russia over a winding mountain road often blocked by avalanches throughout the long winter.

There is just one factory in South Ossetia that produces building material, a small asphalt plant, but even it is not often working. Georgia also cut gas supplies to the region in the wake of the war.

After moving between friends' houses for a few weeks at a time all winter, Gregory Dzassokhov set up a tent in the yard behind his destroyed house on Khetagurova street for his family this summer.

"What are we going to do? Live in the street? They last promised to start building on June 1, but they have so many houses to rebuild I don't know how they are going to do it all. Soon I hope," he said.


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