Anger surges over casualties in South Ossetia

One of the sisters was missing most of her head when they brought her body back from Tskhinvali, the separatist South Ossetian capital that came under four days of heavy shelling by Georgian troops in a push to take it back.

Svetlana Kogoyeva clutched at the gate of the morgue, warned off by staff as they unloaded the bodies of Diana Koshmakogova, 61, and Zaria Grigoryevno, 63, packed in one coffin.

'She has no head,' Kogoyeva moaned. 'How did it get to this point? They aren't people - they're killing, then going to church after,' she said, her voice choked with anger and tears.

'She was a doctor, we worked 11 years in the same hospital ... we travelled all over the world together, to everywhere in Europe,' Kogoyeva said, listing countries as if in an appeal to the world.

'It's a genocide.'

Grigoryevno's son, Alan, flew in from London for the funeral Tuesday.

Dust-filled Tskhinvali, with its cement rubble and endless column of Russian tanks, APCs and other hardware crunching through, has an abandoned feel.

Residents emerged for the first time Monday from four days of hiding, crammed in basements. They gathered alongside aimless South Ossetia fighters with automatic rifles to stare at two burnt-out Georgian tanks near the capital's gutted university.

In the Jewish quarter, where the fighting had been heaviest, car carcasses let off a freshly-burnt smell and two-storey brick houses showed signs of heavy shelling and walls crumbled by grenade blasts. Russian soldiers pointed to chunks of heavy white metal that looked to be part of GRAD multiple rocket launchers used by Georgian troops.

Too weak to unlock his front door, Utar Kusryaev, 69, pointed in defeat through a hole in the wall, and raised his hands with helpless tears at the site of his closet, overturned and riddled with shrapnel.

He hugged and kissed the Russian soldiers, saying, 'God save you ... be my strength, my sons are gone.'

As the fighting let up with a ceasefire on Tuesday, the Russian military began bringing in wounded and dead through the Roki tunnel that is the only corridor from the violence-ridden region to Russia.

Along the 150-kilometre road houses were burnt and burning and scattered sniper fire was stilled rumoured.

When military transport vehicle delivered seven bodies to the morgue on Monday, a list outside posting the names of 16 dead, the youngest aged 18, was ignored by people, unable to call relatives and pleading for the latest news from officials.

When Kogoyeva couldn't reach her friend for two days, men went to her home and found the elderly sisters dead in the bombed-out basement.

'There's no water at the morgue, they couldn't even clean their bodies,' she said.

At the emergency hospital in Vladikavkaz, a suburb just across the border in Russia, 66 wounded had been brought in overnight Monday, the clinic's head doctor Kazbek Gusov said.

At her cousin's bedside, her leg raised after an operation to clear shrapnel, Irina Shovlukova cried, 'He never fought! All the dead are peace-loving people. They were all sleeping.'

In the next cot was Marat Kisilyer who had served three years in the 1,500-strong peacekeeping force split between North Ossetians, Georgians and Russians to maintain a ceasefire agreement that ended a bloody war of seccession after the Soviet collapse in the early 1990s.

Shovlukova buried her face in her 9-year-old daughter's back as she recalled the four days she hid with relatives in their basement, waiting for the bombardment to stop.

'It's where we keep the potatoes. Eight people, four children squeezed in - we couldn't even fit,' she said, using the back of her palms to clear her tears.

'We couldn't go out to the bathroom but there was no water anyway.'

'My sister is there now with five women ... I keep begging her to leave, but her son died and she won't go until he's buried.'

Shovlukova said her 28-year-old nephew Alik's body was lying in the flooded streets after the water system was destroyed.

Her aunt Zaira Sabanova interjected when she ran out of words: 'There were bodies in the street. We couldn't bury them because the snipers are shooting at the graves.'

'They killed two sisters, doctors,' Sabanova took up in anger, but on learning that her body had been brought to the morgue Monday, she too crumbled to tears.

'Just yesterday, she gave us all manicures ... it's silly - in the basement, but she was always like that,' she sobbed.

Reports of civilian casualties ranged from 200 to 2,000 dead, while 25,000 people fled from South Ossetia into Russia. Another 2,000 went to Armenia.

'Eighteen years they have been killing us, how much can you forgive? We are such a small nation,' Shovlukova said.

'But I will go back to my home.'

[Source: By Alissa de Carbonnel, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Tshinvali, 13Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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