Page last updated at 18:31 GMT, Monday, 25 August 2008 19:31 UK

S Ossetia 'emptied of Georgians'

Elderly Georgians wait to be evacuated, 21/08
Some elderly Georgians were left behind with no food or care

Russia is attempting to empty Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia of its ethnic Georgian population, the head of Europe's security body says.

Alexander Stubb, of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said he had witnessed elderly people being transported in lorries.

Last week, it was reported that Russian troops were evacuating Georgians whose homes had been destroyed.

Witnesses said many left willingly as they had little left in South Ossetia.

Mr Stubb, who was in the Georgian town of Gori last week, said OSCE observers were now in South Ossetia trying to clarify the situation.

"Russian emergency troops brought in two lorries full of elderly people," he told the BBC.

"[They were] elderly Georgians from southern Ossetia who had been torn away from their homes - basically sitting there on the street with all their belongings.

"[Russian troops] are clearly trying to empty southern Ossetia of Georgians, which I don't think goes by any of the books that we deal with in international relations."

Before the current crisis, about 30% of the breakaway region's population was ethnic Georgian.

Meanwhile, a Red Cross spokesman in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali said the authorities there were holding 89 Georgian civilians who were taken into custody to save them from being lynched after the initial Georgian attack on the town earlier this month.

He said the Moscow-backed authorities wanted to swap them for South Ossetians captured by Georgian troops.

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