That’s a relief

I was pretty appalled by the casualty figures coming out of South Ossetia last week – 1500 to 2000 dead from such a small population is almost inconceivable. So I was relieved to see this from today’s BBC:

Russian officials say more than 1,500 civilians were killed in Tskhinvali after Georgia launched an all-out assault last Friday, using heavy artillery and tanks. The casualty toll cannot be independently verified.

Giorgi Gogia, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Tbilisi, described the Russian figure for Tskhinvali as “an exaggeration”, adding: “It is clear that both sides are exaggerating, and that figures are inflated”.

He said HRW, which is based in New York, had not found any evidence to back up Russian claims of atrocities committed by Georgian troops.

Giorgi Gogia used to work for me, in our mutual previous jobs, and organised my trip to Tskhinvali in 2005 (he is just visible in the background over the shoulder of one of the ladies walking towards me in my picture of the main square). Even if he weren’t working for HRW, which has a good reputation for getting this kind of thing right, I would be inclined to trust his judgement. The casualties are still pretty appalling, but I’m glad they are not as catastrophic as we first were told.

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