- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

UPDATED:

A leading human rights group claims to have evidence that Russia used cluster bombs against civilian population and infrastructure in Georgia.

Human Rights Watch late Thursday announced it had eyewitness accounts, as well as video and photographic evidence, that Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in populated areas in Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens.

The group says Russian aircraft dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs, each containing 30 PTAB 2.5M submunitions, on the town of Ruisi in the Kareli district of Georgia on August 12, 2008.

That attack allegedly killed three civilians and wounded five. The group alleges that a cluster strike took place the same day in the center of the town of Gori, killing at least eight civilians and injuring dozens.



The Russian attacks represent the first known use of cluster munitions since Israels war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, the group says.

These lies were prepared in advance, Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a senior official at the Russian Defense Ministry, said during a briefing in Moscow. We never used this kind of weapon. Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions or bomblets. Experts say they are highly effective against soft targets that have no armor such as an airfield, buildings or people.

But the indiscriminate nature of a cluster strikes footprint, combined with the fact that many bomblets dont explode — remaining on the ground as de-facto land-mines have made them a focal point for international efforts to ban them.

In May 2008, 107 nations agreed to a total ban on cluster munitions. Russia did not participate in the talks.

HRW researchers claim to have interviewed victims, doctors, and military personnel in Georgia, analyzed photos of craters and seen video footage of the August 12 attack on Gori. Researchers also say they saw a photo of the submunition carrier assembly and nose cone of an RBK-250 bomb in Gori.

The Gori video showed more than two dozen simultaneous explosions during the attack, which is characteristic of cluster bombs, the groups statement said.

HRW says doctors at Tbilisis two main hospitals described numerous injuries to civilians hurt in the attack on Gori they believed were consistent with cluster bombs. And the groups researchers themselves said they saw a doctor extract a submunition fragment from a victims head.

Mark Hiznay, a spokesperson for HRW, denied a request by The Washington Times to see the video and photos, citing the need to protect journalists and researchers in the field.

HRW has been active in documenting war crimes since the conflict began. But the group hasnt only laid blame on Russian forces.

On Aug. 14, the group issued a communique that states : Georgian and Russian forces use identical Soviet-era weapons systems including main battle tanks, Grad multiple-launch rockets, BMP infantry fighting vehicles and tube artillery. Human Rights Watch cannot definitely attribute specific battle damage to a particular belligerent, but witness accounts and the timing of the damage would point to Georgian fire accounting for much of the damage” that HRW documented in the area of Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

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