Thursday, September 4, 2008


Georgian women refugees sit on a straw-laden farm transporter as they rest before continuing their flight from Russian troops.

By Tom Clifford, Deputy Managing Editor
Published: August 15, 2008, 09:21

Gori: One town, two countries. The contradictions of war were clearly apparent in Sarp, a town shared by Turkey and Georgia.

On one side were streams of refugees fleeing the fighting and on the other side of the town in Georgia itself people were sunning themselves on the beach, as if oblivious to the suffering of their own countrymen.

Sarp is where the Turkish Red Crescent are based to deal with the refugee influx.

More than 3,600 Georgians dash to Sarp each day, mostly from Western Georgia. They bring tales of atrocities and heavy fighting.

Meanwhile, the Black Sea port of Poti, about 100 kilometres north, has been shelled by Russian warships and - according to refugees - resembles a ghost town.

"I brought my wife and nine-year-old son from Poti today," said Qabakh.

"It is not safe there. The Russians may have withdrawn their heavy armour but irregulars crowd around the town, robbing and looting," he said.

On the Turkish side of Sarp stands a convoy of 104 articulated trucks caught in the no man's land of war during a ceasefire.

Among them are Turkish Red Crescent trucks with huge banners down the side stating that their contents are a gift from the Turkish people to Georgia.

For the people of Georgia, the French president's announcement of a ceasefire just does not ring true.

The refugees' tales are a harrowing testament that Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement was a triumph of spin over substance.

The front line in this campaign is not in Tbilisi but in Western Georgia where the remnants of the routed Georgian army have taken to the hills and where Georgians blame Chechen irregulars for atrocities which are too well documented to be just propaganda.

Georgia is being slowly strangled and a vicious Bosnian style conflict is emerging.

The area between Poti and Gori is becoming a no man's land where the gun carries the day and undisciplined bands of young men, many from Chechnya, roam.

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