South Ossetia Tries to Disarm Its Citizens





For years, there was not much difference between a civilian and a soldier in South Ossetia, which was embroiled in a long struggle to separate from Georgia.

David G. Sanakoyev, for example, wore a tie during the day. As South Ossetia’s ombudsman for human rights, he handled complaints about prison conditions or unlawful firings. Three times a week, after work, he changed into camouflage and took up a position at the territory’s border, rotating in and out of combat duty until morning.

Then he put his suit back on, and returned to his desk — a pattern interrupted only once, he recalled, when he was shot through the thigh in a Georgian ambush.

This has been the strange way of life inside South Ossetia, on and off, since the end of the Soviet Union. The tiny population of this valley — factory workers, university students, farmers and smugglers — has been turned into a loosely organized fighting force, deployed along the boundary that separates South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled territory.

Now, with Russia guaranteeing its security, South Ossetia is asking residents to turn in their weapons voluntarily. The police have opened 50 criminal prosecutions for illegal weapons and plan to offer $300 to $400 for each Kalashnikov rifle, a top official said.

The program is a test of confidence, a year after the war between Russia and Georgia...

...Twenty years ago, few people in this valley were armed. The first clash between Ossetians and Georgians was fought with wooden bats and hunting rifles in 1989, after an estimated 12,000 Georgian demonstrators surrounded Tskhinvali to protest its first separatist bid. In the two days of violence that followed, six people died, according to Human Rights Watch.

That began a great surge of arming. Timur Tskhovrebov, then working as a tomato farmer, became “a specialist in stealing from Soviet warehouses,” he recalled, with a broad, reminiscent smile. The commander of a 10-man local militia, he would bribe a sentry, throw a mattress over the barbed-wire fence, and clamber in and out, arms loaded with weapons, for two hours until the next sentry arrived...


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