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Europe

Anger Festers as South Ossetians Accuse Europe of Failing Them

Europeans might be stunned to learn of the outrage of many in South Ossetia at the presence of EU ceasefire monitors -- part of an EU-brokered peace pact between Georgia and Russia that ended the war in August last year.

Ruins in Tskhinvali

Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, is still in rubble

Memories of war in this tiny patch of farm country sitting in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains are old and filled with violence.

But the raw anger among some South Ossetians, huddled amid the freezing, roofless ruins left by the recent war in this separatist province, is being redirected towards a new antagonist. South Ossetians are resentful towards the European Union and have expressed anger at the EU's support of Georgia and the presence of EU observers in the region.

Some contempt is also saved for a separate mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has patrolled the region since 1992. Like European peacekeepers, OSCE personnel have also been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.

Villager: War tearing us apart

South Ossetian separatist fighters wave a Kalashnikov and the South Ossetian separatist flag

Some South Ossetians say war is destroying their way of life

Hysterical shouts greeted a small group of foreign journalists who tumbled out of a Russian-organized bus tour to the tightly-guarded region last week. Residents shuffled up, fists raised, from their seats where the spring sun had dried the pock-marked mud in front of the village store. There had been mortar shelling here, as evidenced by the mud holes.

"We are against Europe and the OSCE. How many people have to be killed, every summer, for them to see the truth?" Svetalana Bukhayeva hotly pressed journalists. She had mistaken them for representatives of the two European missions.

"What Georgia says is served up on a plate, but nobody listens to us. We don't understand. We have seen nothing good from life the last 20 years but war and bombardment.

"Life stops with war," she lamented, saying only three children have been born in the village of Khetagurvoa since South Ossetia threw off Tbilisi's rule in a war of succession in the early 1990s.

Kokoity: Monitors will never enter South Ossetia

President of the separatist Georgian province of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, right

Eduard Kokoity, right, says EU monitors will never enter South Ossetia

The Kremlin-backed South Ossetian leadership last week accused Georgia of firing two RPG-7 shells at the separatist's provincial capital Tskhinvali and accused EU observers on the Georgian side of the ceasefire line with turning a blind eye to an alleged military buildup there.

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said as much at a press conference Friday in Tskhinvali, where local and Russian media snapped pictures of him sitting in front of Russian and South Ossetian flags.

"Where are the European observers looking?" he fumed.

Asked in an interview with German news agency DPA under what conditions he would allow EU and OSCE monitors access to South Ossetia, Kokoity replied: "They will never work here.

"Never, because those organizations long ago compromised themselves. In the face of Georgian aggression they did nothing to save woman, children and the elderly.

"We don't trust these organizations. They have taken no responsibility. More than anything they fulfill the function of border markers," Kokoity said.

EU presence 'preventing' fresh conflict

OSCE observers monitor the Russian army evacuation of forward positions in Georgia

OSCE monitors have been in Georgia since the ceasefire was signed

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) says it has found no evidence of Georgian troop concentrations near the border with South Ossetia, nor of preparations for military action.

"Because of the South Ossetian claims we were able to carry out an investigation and concluded that there was no build up in Georgian forces," EUMM spokesman Steve Bird told DPA on Monday.

"We are an independent organization with a mandate, as we see it, to monitor the whole of the country (Georgia). We would welcome (a request for) an investigation into the claims in South Ossetia to see exactly what happened, if they allowed us," he said.

This issue will likely be one of several points of high contention in the third round of Russia-Georgia negotiations in Geneva on Feb. 17-18. Western governments say the presence of Tbilisi-based EU and OSCE monitors in and around South Ossetia could help prevent new hostilities.

The US and Europe have not recognized the independence of South Ossetia, nor that of another breakaway region called Abkhazia. Both were considered autonomous regions of Georgia under the Soviet Union and until the recent August war.

Frozen statehood

Locals wave Russian and South Ossetian flags in Tskhinvali

The August war has stirred emotions in many South Ossetians

Moscow, meanwhile, wants to split the monitoring missions to reflect its recognition of South Ossetian statehood -- a South Ossetian and Russian goal for the last 17 years -- after quashing Georgia's bid to retake the separatist territory.

Half a year after the conflict, the fresh anger here is underlined by a disappointed realization that, despite recognition by Russia, the state looks destined to remain locked into a strange de facto status quo, shakily dependent on Moscow's aide.

Not a single house in Khetaguraova, on the outskirts Tskhinvali, looks to have survived unscathed from the recent conflict. Blue-painted slogans stood bright against the rusted fences and black-charred walls. One said, "Thank you Russia," while another read, "Ossetia thanks its protectors."

Larisa Tatayeva, a 39-year-old nurse, pointed through a shattered window pane at the village store to where she ran to hide when the Georgian attack began: "I had so much shrapnel in my skin it took hours to pick out in the light of the cellar.

"We had a lot of hope in Europe, but now we watch television and see they are only for Georgia," she said, nervously fiddling with the blond tips of her hair now brown half-way to the roots. "Russia saved us. We have hope in Russia and not anyone else."

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