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Published: Monday, 9/13/2010

Russia denies Georgian claims of ethnic cleansing


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Russia accused Georgia on Monday of manufacturing allegations of ethnic cleansing in Georgia's breakaway provinces after it failed to regain control of the areas in an abortive five-day war.

Georgia has complained to the International Court of Justice of the murder of thousands of ethnic Georgians and alleged displacement of some 300,000 people in a two-decade campaign of discrimination by Russian authorities and separatist militias in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian, however, portrayed itself as a mediator and peacemaker, and said Georgia had never complained of ethnic discrimination until it lost the 2008 war.

Two years ago, the U.N.'s highest court issued an emergency ruling ordering both countries to protect civilians from ethnic violence. But it delayed any action on Georgia's claim that Russia had systematically persecuted ethnic Georgians since the early 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On Monday, Russia argued that the court had no jurisdiction to hear Georgia's case. Georgia was to present its argument on the jurisdiction issue on Tuesday. No time has been set for the court to hear arguments on the case's merits. While the court's decisions are binding, it has no means of forcing compliance.

Georgia's complaint was based on alleged violations of a 1965 treaty banning all forms of racial discrimination. But Russia said Georgia had never raised claims of discrimination during normal diplomatic contacts until after its forces were crushed in the 2008 war in South Ossetia.

“The application (to the court) was launched only when it became clear that Georgia's military operation had failed,” said Kirill Gevorgian, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's legal department.

The court, also known as the World Court that adjudicates disputes among U.N. member states, is a court of last resort, the Russian legal team argued. Lawyers said Georgia had not previously sought to resolve its claims through negotiations or through a commission established by the anti-discrimination treaty.

“This is a dispute that Georgia never communicated to Russia until the very date of its application,” said Roman Kolodkin, Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands.

He said Georgia's appeal to the court was “a continuation of war by other means.”

After the war, Russia maintained a powerful force in the two breakaway provinces and recognized their claims of independence from Georgia, which remains a major source of tension between Russia and the United States.

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