ICC seeks arrest of three war crimes suspects in 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict

FILE PHOTO: An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday issued arrest warrants for three suspects, including two Russian nationals, dating from the 2008 conflict in Georgia.

Prosecutors had demonstrated "reasonable grounds to believe that each of these three suspects bears responsibility for war crimes," the three judges said in a statement.

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway region South Ossetia, population 53,000, in 2008.

While Georgia considers South Ossetia part of its territory, Russia says it is an independent country and increased its military presence there during and after the conflict.

The charges relate to the alleged mistreatment of civilians at a detention centre in Tskhinvali, the capital city of in the South Ossetia region of Georgia, between Aug.8 and Aug. 27, 2008.

"Civilians perceived to be ethnically Georgian were arrested in the South Ossetian part of Georgia, and subsequently detained, mistreated, and kept in harsh detention conditions ... before being used as a bargaining tool by Russia and the South Ossetian de facto authorities, and used for an exchange of prisoners and detainees," the three judges said.

The arrest warrants were for Russian nationals Mikhail Mindzaev, 66, and Gamlet Guchmazov, 45, both for unlawful confinement, torture and inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, hostage-taking, and unlawful transfer of civilians.

Mindzaev was the Minister of Internal Affairs of the de-facto South Ossetian administration at the time, while Guchmazov headed the detention centre.

The third warrant was for Georgiyevich Sanakoev, a Georgian, suspected of hostage-taking and the unlawful transfer of civilians. He was Presidential Representative for Human Rights in the South Ossetian administration, the judges said.

Prosecutors at the ICC have been investigating possible crimes in South Ossetia since 2016.

A spokesperson for the tribunal said they could not provide information about the possible whereabouts of the suspects or whether they are aware of the complaints against them.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Barbara Lewis)

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