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Amnesty International Calls for Georgia War Crimes Investigation

An independent report on the war between Russia and Georgia in August, is calling for an investigation into the conduct of all parties during the hostilities. The London-based human rights organization, Amnesty International, says it is concerned serious rights violations took place at the time.

Amnesty says all sides in the August conflict may have committed abuses. In its new report, Amnesty says Georgian and Russian forces and militia fighters in the breakaway South Ossetia region should be investigated for war crimes during the conflict.

Amnesty's John Dalhuisen says there is strong evidence of human rights violations, noting concerns over "indiscriminate attacks by Georgian forces on entering Tskhinvali and then Russian forces in reply.

"Amnesty is also very concerned with the "looting, pillaging and destruction of civilian property essentially by South Ossetian forces and militia groups in aftermath of the conflict," said Dalhuisen.

The war erupted when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili launched a military operation against separatists in the breakaway province of South Ossetia to bring them under Tbilisi's control.

Russia responded with overwhelming military force, pushing deep inside Georgia. Dalhuisen says an in-depth investigation needs to take place and recommends an international humanitarian fact-finding commission established under the Geneva convention that both Georgia and Russia agree to.

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch agrees. It says Georgian and Russian forces used cluster bombs in the conflict and the group's representative in Tbilisi, Giorgi Gogia, says those bombs that failed to explode have now become de-facto landmines.

"We have called for both sides to provide the strike data to the de-mining organizations to raise awareness and conduct education programs for the civilians that have gone back in the affected areas," said Gogia. He says Human Rights Watch is also calling on both sides to sign the Cluster Bomb treaty in December.

Professor Sergei Arutiunov, a Caucasus expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, says abuses in South Ossetia must be exposed. But, he says, the army also needs the support of trained police forces in the breakaway region.

"Armies are not geared for police work, to maintain order," he said. "Marauding and criminal activity happens even after a short war." This "chaos must be rooted out."

Though the hostilities have ended, human rights groups say there are more than 20,000 ethnic Georgians unable to return to their homes in South Ossetia - with no prospect of doing so in the near future.