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Cablegate: Casualty Figures in South Ossetia Vary, Still

VZCZCXRO1806
RR RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2599 2421440
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 291440Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9767
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS MOSCOW 002599

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL RS
SUBJECT: CASUALTY FIGURES IN SOUTH OSSETIA VARY, STILL
UNKNOWN

1. (SBU) Summary. In the aftermath of active fighting in
South Ossetia, numerous leaders and agencies from Russia,
Georgia, the United States, international agencies, and the
self-proclaimed South Ossetian government have reported
varying death toll figures. While there is no consensus,
published figures from the Russian and so-called South
Ossetian governments vastly exceed those from the U.S.,
Georgia, and human rights agencies. Council of Europe Human
Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg stated in an Interfax
press conference on August 29 that the number of casualties,
while still unknown and undeterminable, exceeds figures
quoted by international organizations. End Summary.

Civilian Deaths
---------------

2. (SBU) Since August 8, civilian casualty estimates cited
publicly by Russian and foreign officials in South Ossetia
have ranged from 44 to over 2,000; however, Russian and South
Ossetian figures are all 1,000 or higher. South Ossetia's
Prosecutor General's Office proclaimed on August 29 that
exactly 1,692 people were killed, but ventured that only
1,500 were injured in the Georgian conflict, a figure
slightly lower than that cited by South Ossetian President
Eduard Kokoity. On August 25, Kokoity claimed that 2,000
civilians died in the conflict. Yet, on August 22, Chief of
the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee Irina
Gagloyeva stated that 1,492 civilians died in South Ossetia.
Russian Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov declared on
August 25 that approximately 1,000 South Ossetian citizens
perished in the conflict. The lowest figure from the Russian
side came on August 20 from Deputy Chairman of the
Investigations Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's
Office Boris Salmaksov who totaled known South Ossetian
casualties at 133.

3. (SBU) Calling the situation a humanitarian catastrophe
but not genocide, Hammarberg in an August 29 press conference
discouraged the publication of casualty numbers, positing
that it is too difficult to know exact figures at this stage
(Note: Hammarberg made a similar statement on August 23). In
an August 27 meeting with the Ambassador, Russian Human
Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin also refused to estimate
casualty figures and to call events in South Ossetia
"genocide." In Hammarberg's August 29 meeting with Duma
Speaker Boris Gryzlov, he noted that some people had been
buried quickly in family gardens to prevent an epidemic, and
the possibility of more buried civilians complicated casualty
estimates. At the same time, Hammarberg said the death toll
was higher than that reported by some international
organizations. On August 14, Human Rights Watch Moscow
Deputy Director Tanya Lokshina stated that the Tshkinvali
city hospital reported 44 civilian deaths. The Washington
Post printed the same figure for Tshkinvali on August 25,
also noting figures from hospitals in Tbilisi (70) and Gori
(64). Georgia-based Kavkaz Press reported 25 deaths in Gori
on August 25. In wild contrast, Russian military experts
estimated Georgia's death toll at 4,000 on August 15.

Military Deaths
---------------

4. (SBU) While the precise count for Russian military deaths
has varied since the outbreak of violence, the majority of
officials reported fewer than 70 deaths. On August 24,
Russian military officials tallied 64 deceased military
personnel, a figure supported by Russian Colonel-General
Anatoly Novogitsyn on August 20. Russian daily Komsomolskaya
Pravda reported 51 Russian military deaths on August 18 while
Rossiya TV reported over 70 Russian military deaths on August
15. Russian officials stated on August 25 that approximately
200 Georgian soldiers died in the fighting, with another
150-180 Georgian soldiers still missing.

Comment
-------

5. (SBU) Despite numerous reports from government officials,
human rights watchdogs, and press outlets in South Ossetia,
there is not a consistent estimate, much less a precise
number, of casualties.
BEYRLE

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