Although the Georgian Ministry of Defense has acknowledged using cluster bombs, it said they were not used in populated areas.
The Georgian MoD released a press statement on Monday evening after Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on September 1 that in a letter sent to HRW, the Georgian side had admitted to using cluster bombs in the vicinity of Roki Tunnel, linking breakaway South Ossetia with Russia.
“These rockets were never used against civilians, civilian targets or civilian populated or nearby areas during the conflict with Russia, in the South Ossetian region or beyond. The GRADLAR system was used against Russian military equipment and armament moving from Roki Tunnel to Dzara road,” it said.
Bonnie Docherty, arms division researcher at HRW said on September 1, that M85 cluster munitions were discovered in Shindisi, a village outside breakaway South Ossetia, north of the town of Gori. Docherty said that while this could point to Russian use, Moscow was not known to have that particular make in its arsenal. She added that it was possible that the M85 munitions had been scattered about, having been hit in a Russian strike.
The Georgian MoD, however, said that there were no GRADLAR systems or rockets deployed in Shindisi at any time during the hostilities or afterwards.
“Shindisi was one of the last positions that the Georgian army held before the disengagement and complete withdrawal from the war theatre,” it said. “No GRADLAR launchers were destroyed during the war by enemy forces. Since the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Shindisi, the Georgian armed forces have not used artillery.”
MoD also stressed that M85 dual-purpose bomblet’s unique self-destruction mechanism makes use of the munitions much safer.
“This important safety feature is designed to ensure that no armed duds will be left on the battlefield to endanger advancing friendly troops or civilian population,” it said.
It continued that the discovery of M85 bomblets in Shindisi raised a lot of suspicion, “especially if there are no signs of damage caused by these bomblets.”
“This fact demands proper investigation and the Georgian side is ready to participate in and provide all necessary assistance to conduct such an investigation. If needed for investigative purposes, we can provide the name of the [munitions] supplier company,” the Georgian MoD said. “We would like to receive some more information from, and examine the evidence in the possession of, HRW in this regard.”