This week in history: South Ossetian referendum

On January 5 1991, civil war erupted in South Ossetia. The aftermath saw the province, which is located on the border of Russia, break away from the Georgian Central Government. The Sochi ceasefire agreement between Georgia and South Ossetia, which was brokered by Russia, included an agreement on the part of Georgia to refrain from imposing sanctions on South Ossetia.

However, the Georgian government retained control over substantial portions of South Ossetia. For the next decade,  South Ossetians sought secession. Mikheil Saakashvili, who gained presidency of Georgia in 2004, vowed to regain the lost control over South Ossetia. An alternative pro-Georgian government for South Ossetia was established in Tbilisi, the Georgian Capital. Consequently, tensions rose.

On 12 November 2006, South Ossetia held an independence referendum.  The question posed was whether it would retain its status as an independent state and be recognised by the international community. The opposition movement, backed by Georgia, asked an alternative question: whether South Ossetia should enter into talks with Georgia with regard to the creation of a federal state that would unite South Ossetia with Georgia. Of the 55,000 population, 95 per cent were eligible to vote.  The results demonstrated that 99 per cent had opted for independence. In reaction to these results, the Georgian government declared the election illegal. Terry Davis, head of the Council of Europe, announced that the international community would not recognise the results, stating it was “unnecessary, unhelpful and unfair”. The USA adopted a similar stance of non-recognition. The capital of South Ossetia, Tshinvali, witnessed the eruption of celebrations as the province flags were waved.

Following the 2006 decision, tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia remained high. On 1 August 2008, South Ossetian seperatists blew up a Georgian military vehicle, wounding five Georgian peacekeepers. The Georgian President ordered a unilateral ceasefire in August.

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