Rights group: Few civilians died in South Ossetian war
MOSCOW - Fewer than 100 civilians died in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia during last month's war, human rights activists said yesterday - a far smaller number than Russian and South Ossetian officials have claimed.
Tatiana Lokshina, a Russian researcher for the US-based group Human Rights Watch who visited the region, said trips to a hospital, a cemetery, and conversations with residents failed to corroborate claims by Russia and its South Ossetian allies that thousands of civilians were killed in the region.
During and immediately after last month's war, Russian officials repeated South Ossetian authorities' claim that 1,500 and even up to 2,000 civilians were killed in the war. Later, however, Russian prosecutors launched a probe into civilian deaths and have refrained from comment until their investigation is complete.
"I don't understand where the number of 1,500 comes from," Lokshina told reporters.
"Thank God, civilian deaths are not measured in thousands," she said, adding that the number of civilians who died appeared to be "fewer than 100."
Lokshina said it was impossible to determine the precise number of casualties.
She said the 1,500 civilian deaths presented by South Ossetian's separatist authorities appeared to have included local militants as well as some wounded civilians who might have been taken by retreating Georgian troops to Georgia proper for treatment.