Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher describes the tension as Russian forces advanced from Gori.
|Gori’s central Stalin Square is quiet but the population is still
waiting for things to return to normal [AFP]
Driving down the road into Gori, it is clear how strong the Russian army still is here. The main road is dotted with tanks, lorries and soldiers.
But the atmosphere is different from Thursday’s tense gunpoint stand-off with the Georgians. The soldiers are making coffee, listening to music, reading books.
Once we arrive in Stalin Square, right in the centre of town, there’s no sign of the invading army.
Alexander Comaca is the National Security advisor to the Georgian president. When he heard that the Russian tanks had arrived in Gori, he headed straight for the town.
He tells me that the population was shocked by the sudden arrival of tanks on the streets and they are angry that they were stopped by the Russians from leaving the city.
“We want to set up Georgian police patrols in the area. The Russians agreed and then said no. They said it is a threat to their security,” he says.
But now Comaca’s greatest concern is the horrific reports he is hearing from the villages around Gori.
“We are told armed men are driving into villages and rounding up the men. They are slaughtering them, raping the women and robbing their houses before setting them on fire. This is ethnic cleansing,” he says.
|The Russian military remains in charge in Gori [AFP]|
“The people tell us the men are from Ossetia or Kazakhstan.”
The stories of atrocities on both sides have circulated from the early days of this war.
The villages mentioned are too dangerous to reach at the moment so it is impossible to verify them, but the accounts we hear are numerous and consistant.
The people we speak to in the centre of Gori want the Russians to leave, but not before Georgian security forces arrive.
“They are protecting us for now,” one man says.
The town’s hospital was cleared out when the Russians arrived, a hurried evacuation as patients were piled into any available form of transport. Now the ambulances are back, bringing in vital supplies like bread, water and flour.
Also arriving in the town are priests and nuns and doctors and nurses.
At the side of the white washed hospital building, an ambulance arrives driven by two priests in their long cassacks and black hats. They have been to the village of Shindisi, 16km from Gori.
For five days, an injured man waited there for help, but medical teams could not reach him because it was too risky. Now accompanied by armed Russian soliders, they have managed to get to him and bring him here for treatment.
In a small green ambulance, just 20 metres away, lie two body bags, the people who were not so lucky.
Slowly, the Georgian authorities are increasing their presence here, but life will be hard for a very long time.
For the moment, there’s no doubt who is in charge and the population can do nothing but accept it.