ICJ public hearings in Russia-Georgia dispute

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Russia will seek to convince the UN's highest court next week not to entertain a claim by Georgia of "ethnic cleansing" in disputed territories under Moscow's control.

Public hearings are to be held in The Hague for four days from Monday on "preliminary objections to jurisdiction raised by the Russian Federation" in response to a complaint lodged by Georgia in 2008, the court has said.

Georgia instituted proceedings against Russia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in August 2008, claiming breaches of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Tbilisi accused Russia of a protracted campaign of "ethnic cleansing," saying its citizens in areas under Moscow's control were terrorised and subjected to violence, causing some 150,000 to be displaced.

Georgia went to court four days after the two countries fought a five-day war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- two Moscow-backed rebel regions that broke away from Tbilisi's control in the early 1990s.

Russia claims it sent troops into Georgia to repel Georgian forces attempting to regain control of South Ossetia.

Moscow has since recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, while Tbilisi and most of the international community insist they are part of Georgian territory.

Russia, which denies Georgia's claims, does not consider the ICJ competent to rule on the case.

Next week's hearings will start with arguments by lawyers for Russia in open court on Monday, followed by Georgia on Tuesday.

Each party will then get another turn on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

The ICJ, which rules on disputes between states, ordered both countries in October 2008 to "refrain from any acts of racial discrimination" against ethnic groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

That followed a Georgian request for interim protection measures pending the court's judgment in its racial discrimination case -- for which no date has been set.

Earlier this month, Georgia's Prime Minister Nika Gilauri accused Russia of failing to live up to an EU-brokered ceasefire to end the 2008 war, claiming Moscow was beefing up its military forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

© 2010 AFP

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