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Originally published Friday, August 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Signs of looting, ethnic cleansing in conflict

There is growing evidence of looting and "ethnic cleansing" in several villages throughout the Russia-Georgia conflict, some witnessed by...

TBILISI, Georgia — There is growing evidence of looting and "ethnic cleansing" in several villages throughout the Russia-Georgia conflict, some witnessed by reporters or documented by a human-rights group.

The attacks include stealing, the burning of villages and possibly even killings. Some are ethnically motivated, while at least some of the looting appears to be the work of profiteers in areas from which authorities have fled.

The identities of the attackers vary, but a pattern of violence by ethnic Ossetians against ethnic Georgians is emerging and has been confirmed by some Russian authorities.

"Now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves," said Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Borisov, the commander in charge of the Russian-occupied city of Gori.

"We have to be honest," a Russian lieutenant said. "The Ossetians are marauding."

Dozens of houses were on fire Tuesday in the northern suburbs of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Reporters saw unidentified armed men carting away electronics and other household items. The Russians were not stopping them.

"We're not a police force; we're a military force," a Russian lieutenant colonel said. "It's not our job to do police work."

Still, there was some evidence that the Russian military might be making efforts in some places to stop the rampaging.

Human Rights Watch issued a report Thursday that documented attacks by ethnic Ossetians in and around Tskhinvali on Wednesday. Researchers quoted a South Ossetian intelligence officer saying that his fighters had burned the houses to "make sure" that the Georgians couldn't come back.

A Georgian official said some of the worst "ethnic cleansing" was in the towns of Eredvi, Ditsi, Tirdznisi and Kuraleti.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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