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Georgia welcomes probe into 2008 war with Russia

Georgia on Thursday welcomed the International Criminal Court’s inquiry into alleged war crimes committed during its 2008 war with Russia over Moscow-backed breakaway South Ossetia region.

Judges at the world’s only permanent war crimes court on Wednesday gave prosecutors permission to launch an investigation into alleged abuses during the bloody five-day conflict.

It will be the first inquiry by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into possible abuses by Moscow, and was widely hailed by human rights groups which said neither side had yet held to account those behind a wave of killing and looting.

Georgia’s Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, told a press conference that Tbilisi was convinced the ICC decision was “right from the legal point of view and in line with Georgia’s national interests.”

Tsulukiani said the probe will be an opportunity for Georgia to prove that Moscow and its proxy separatist forces in South Ossetia “committed ethnic cleansing of Georgians” and were responsible for killings of Georgian prisoners of war.

Meanwhile a spokesman for Russia’s powerful investigative committee said that Moscow had passed on evidence of alleged crimes committed by Georgian forces in South Ossetia to the ICC.

A three-strong panel of ICC judges has authorised prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with an investigation into alleged “murder, forcible transfer of population and persecution, and war crimes, such as attacks against the civilian population, wilful killing” committed in and around South Ossetia between July 1 and October 10 2008.

On the night of August 7-8 2008, Georgia’s then president Mikheil Saakashvili launched a large-scale military operation against South Ossetian separatist forces that were shelling ethnic-Georgian villages in the tiny enclave.

He was caught by surprise when Moscow intervened militarily, sweeping into Georgia, occupying swathes of the country’s territory, and bombing targets across the ex-Soviet republic.

After winning the brief war, Russia officially recognised South Ossetia — along with another breakaway Georgian region Abkhazia — as independent states, tightening its grip on the two territories where it maintains military bases.

Together the two regions comprise some 20 percent of Georgian territory.