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Delegation of Ossetian Peace Activists to Hold Press Conference Discussing Successful U.S. Visit

Group Has Urged Policymakers and Human Rights Groups to Hear Truth About Georgian Attack and to Support Policies Promoting Peace

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- A delegation of six South Ossetian human rights advocates will hold a press conference at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008, in the Murrow Room at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C.

The group has just concluded a successful series of meetings in Washington and New York in which they shared first-hand accounts of Georgian war crimes and urged the United States to use its influence to persuade Georgia to renounce violence against South Ossetia. The group of activists, members of the Association of South Ossetian Women for Democracy and Human Rights, was the first delegation of Ossetians to visit the United States since the summer's Georgian attack.

Lira Tskhovrebova, the founder and chairwoman of the South Ossetian NGO, said she was heartened by the positive reception. "We didn't know how we would be received by American policymakers, but they listened with compassion and respect," she said.

All of the women in the group, which included teachers and journalists, lost friends or family members in the brief war, which claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands homeless.

Tskhovrebova, who has worked for more than a decade promoting human rights and peace in her war-torn region, called on U.S. leaders to ensure that a promised $1 billion in U.S. aid to the Georgian government reaches all victims of the August war -- and is used to address humanitarian needs, not remilitarization.

She noted that Georgia recently committed $30 million in foreign aid for a luxury hotel in Tbilisi, which was untouched by fighting, while victims of Georgia's surprise attack are still living in refugee camps. Tskhovrebova, whose mother was Georgian, said she is equally concerned about Georgian victims of the attack.

On the night of Aug. 7, Tskhovrebova huddled with her family while Georgia shelled innocent civilians in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. After three days, she emerged to find her town largely destroyed and the South Ossetian perspective absent from international media reports on the war. She decided to seek support from Ossetians living abroad to help get the story told.

The South Ossetian delegation asked U.S. policymakers to hold hearings to investigate the causes of the August 7 war, to undertake an independent assessment of the humanitarian needs in the region and to impose conditions to help ensure that U.S. aid is properly distributed. No U.S. aid is reaching South Ossetia, which bore the brunt of the fighting.

The group held more than a dozen meetings on Capitol Hill with the staff of Senate and House members who sit on committees involved in foreign affairs, appropriations and human rights. They also met with influential think tanks and human rights organizations and with journalists from leading American newspapers.

Tskhovrebova, who visited the United States as a private citizen and not a representative of the South Ossetian government, said she was asked by several American policy makers when Russian troops could leave South Ossetia. "I told them that Russian soldiers are the only thing standing between Ossetians and another attack by Georgia," she said.

She noted that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has yet to renounce violence against South Ossetia and that his callous attitude toward South Ossetia was captured in a Dec. 15 article in New Yorker magazine in which he declared he would someday rename Tskhinvali "New McCain" for Sen. John McCain, one of Georgia's most prominent champions.

"We have raised our children in fear of Georgian attacks for 18 years," said Tskhovrebova, a former history teacher and mother of three. "All we want to do is bring up our children in an atmosphere of safety and begin rebuilding our lives, which were destroyed by Saakashvili's morally indefensible attack. As one of his strongest backers, America should insist that he pursue policies that promote peace rather than war."

She said she knew that if her voice were heard in the U.S. that Georgia would try to disrupt her visit and add her to a list of critics denounced by the Georgian government as spies. "Their venomous reaction confirms that I have been successful," she said.

"Their smear is vicious, false and predictable," she said. "President Saakashvili cannot challenge the truthful and well-documented statements I've made about his decision to kill hundreds of civilians on Aug. 7, so Georgia smears me personally. It is crude and hurtful, but it will not stop me from telling the truth."

Tskhovrebova said she was disappointed that the State Department, obviously under pressure from Georgia, cancelled a scheduled meeting with her group. "They've met with Georgia's lobbyists dozens of times," she noted. "I thought it was part of the State Department's human rights responsibilities to hear from victims of war."

Tskhovrebova's organization has worked for more than a decade with respected international groups such as UNHCR, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Kvinna til Kvinna, a Swedish women's group. Over the past week, Tskhovrebova has heard from NGO leaders who were unable to enter South Ossetia to assess the war's impact and to provide assistance. She promised to return to South Ossetia and work for better international access.

Georgia's attack left thousands of South Ossetians homeless and without basic supplies and there are estimates that as many as 11,000 people are in acute need. Thousands remain refugees in North Ossetia, Russia and Georgia. Since South Ossetia is currently not receiving any of the international aid going to Georgia, Tskhovrebova has set up a fund to provide South Ossetians with basic necessities such as food, bedding and counseling. To support her efforts, go to www.helpossetianow.org.

Before returning home, Lira and her five colleagues will participate in three days of private, person-to-person discussions with Georgian citizens in a dialogue sponsored by the George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. "Peace-building has been my life's work and it will continue to be," she said.

The group also thanked its financial supporters, including prominent ethnic Ossetian businessman Taimuraz Bolloyev, Olympic judo medalist Tamerlan Tmenov and Valery Gergiev, conductor of the London Philharmonic.

SOURCE Association of South Ossetian Women for Democracy and Human Rights

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