JAVA, Georgia — Georgia declared a “state of war” on Saturday, August 9, as Georgian troops battled out with Russian forces over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.“I have signed a decree on a state of war,” Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told a televised meeting of his national security council, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Georgia is in a state of total military aggression.”
Tiblisi said Russian jets had bombed and “completely devastated” the Black Sea port of Poti in attacks that the country’s UN ambassador likened to “a full-scale military invasion”.
Poti is a key port and staging post for moving oil and other energy from the Caspian Sea to the West.
Russian warplanes also bombed the Georgian city of Gori, killing civilians, Georgia’s Public TV reported.
Georgian officials said Russian planes on Friday bombed military targets around the country as well as a railway junction and an airport.
Georgia has only confirmed 30 dead amongst its forces while Russia says three more troops were killed Saturday taking its toll to 15.
“The state of war is declared for 15 days,” Alexander Lomaia, the secretary of Georgia’s national security council, told AFP.
“Parliament has unanimously approved the relevant presidential decree.”
The Russian attacks came after Moscow sent in tanks and troops into South Ossetia to repel a Georgian forces which invaded the province on Friday.
The South Ossetian government said the fighting left more than 1,600 people dead.
In the streets of the south Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, home to an estimated 20,000 people, tanks were seen burning, and women and children ran for cover.
An AFP reporter saw women, children and elderly people riding buses toward the Russian border, fleeing the fighting.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said hospitals in Tskhinvali were overflowing with casualties.
“We’re very concerned about the humanitarian impact,” an ICRC spokeswoman told journalists.
“Ambulances cannot move, hospitals are reported to be overflowing, surgery is taking place in corridors.”
On the diplomatic front, the United States — a champion of Georgia’s bid to join NATO — called for an immediate ceasefire and Russian withdrawal.
“We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops,” US President George W. Bush told reporters in Beijing, where he is attending the Olympic Games.
“We call for an end to the Russian bombings and a return by the parties to the status quo of August 6th,” he said.
The European Union and NATO also called for a halt to hostilities.
The UN Security Council was to meet again Saturday to agree on a call for an immediate ceasefire after talks failed Friday.
South Ossetia broke from Georgia in the early 1990s.
It has since been a constant source of friction between Georgia and Russia, which opposes Tbilisi’s aspirations of joining NATO and has supported the separatists without recognizing their independence.
South Ossetia has long sought unification with North Ossetia, which is inhabited by the same Ossetian ethnic group but ended up across the border in Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.