GENEVA (Reuters) - At least 14 people were killed by cluster bombs during the Georgia-Russia war over South Ossetia in August according to experts in the conflict region, a leading human rights group said on Monday.
Some of the victims were clearly killed in Russian air raids although Moscow has denied that it used the weapon which divides before impact into a large number of bomblets, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The group’s arms division researcher, Bonnie Docherty, told a news briefing that Georgia had now admitted that it used the lethal weapon, which more than 100 countries have agreed to ban, once during the conflict.
“Attacks with these weapons that do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatant civilians are a violation of international humanitarian law,” she said.
Docherty said Russian attacks on the village of Ruisi in Georgia on August 12, when Russian forces were driving Georgian troops from an area south of the South Ossetia border, killed at least 3 civilians and wounded 5.
One the same day, at least 8 civilians died and dozens were wounded in another Russian air attack on the town of Gori, she added, quoting HRW researchers who were on the ground from the moment Russian troops crossed into Georgia proper on August 8.
Docherty said HRW had received an e-mailed letter from the Georgian Defence Ministry admitting that it had used M85 cluster weapons in one attack near the Roki tunnel between Russia and South Ossetia at the start of the conflict.
Hundreds of M85s — mainly produced by Israel which has helped arm Georgia — which Russia is not known to possess, also littered the town of Shindisi in Georgia, but HRW monitors were not sure who they belonged to, she added.
Docherty appealed to both Georgians and Russians to cooperate fully with demining teams from Europe already in the area in clearing the many thousands of bomblets, which often do not explode immediately but kill and maim later.
She said bomblets littered many fields where harvesting was due to start, posing a severe risk to life and limb of farmers.
Many countries are due to meet in Oslo in December to sign up to a treaty banning cluster weapons negotiated outside the framework of the United Nations and endorsed by 107 nations in Dublin in May.
Russia, the United States and China have declined to join it, but many other military powers, including Britain, France and Germany, have said they will come in at a meeting of signatories in Oslo in December.
Editing by Robert Hart