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Georgian policeman wounded

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, December 19
One Georgian policeman was wounded in a shooting incident at the Georgian village of Khurvaleti, located near the administrative border with South Ossetia, on the evening of December 17.

The Interior Ministry of Georgia reported that the incident had happened at 9.30, when fire was opened “from the territory controlled by the Russian occupiers” against the Georgian police post in this village. The Ministry supposes that the gunmen were positioned in the South Ossetian village of Tsinagara. They used automatic firearms and the shooting lasted half an hour. The wounded policeman has been taken to Gori military hospital, and despite receiving a heavy wound his life is not in danger.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has announced that this incident “falls into the category of a terrorist act” and noted that it “represents even greater cause for concern, in conjunction with such steps as the deployment of Russian artillery units on the strategic heights in the Gali district and offensive positions captured by them in the direction of Zugdidi, as well as the provocation staged in Perevi, Sachkhere district, on 12 December.

“The aforesaid actions serve Russia’s goal of adding fuel to the already tense situation, something to which the increasingly aggressive rhetoric of Russian officials also attests. It is very characteristic that such provocative activities by the Russian Federation and its proxies coincide with ongoing negotiations, as with this latest incident – it occurred on the day of the commencement of the next round of Geneva talks. Besides, it is obvious that the Russian political and military leadership is openly challenging the international community, inter alia, through their recently developed policy of minimizing the international presence in Georgia, which has been refined in their attempts to discontinue the activities of the OSCE Mission in Georgia and UNOMIG,” says the statement of the Georgian Foreign Ministry published on the evening of December 18.

The South Ossetian separatist authorities have denied involvement in this incident. “The information about firing from the South Ossetian side doesn’t correspond with reality,” stated de facto South Ossetian Deputy Defence Minister Ibragim Gasseev, quoted by the South Ossetian separatist authorities’ official Press Committee on December 18. According to Gasseev, fire was opened by Georgian policeman themselves during a “drunken fight” among themselves. The EU Monitoring Mission [EUMM] is working in Kurvaleti but has not been able to enter Tsinagara to check whether gunfire occurred from that side. The Russian troops and South Ossetian militia will not let international observers cross the administrative border.

The hindering of the work of international observers in Georgia’s breakaway regions was on the agenda of the international talks in Geneva on December 17-18. The necessity of discussing this topic was underlined by both the representatives of the Georgian delegations and American officials, who also participate in the meetings. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, speaking in Tbilisi on December 16, commented on the continuing tensions and provocations around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He said that Russia is “not fulfilling it obligations” taken under the Sarkozy-Medvedev ceasefire agreement signed on August 12, according to which Russia has to withdraw its forces to the positions they held before the start of the conflict. Bryza underlined that because of the incidents in the conflict regions it’s important to provide “the international observers access to the whole territory of Georgia” including the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Nobody want to suspect Russian soldiers or other Russian citizens of these incidents,” stated Bryza, “however the fire comes from the territory controlled by Russian troops and Russia should be held responsible for it,” he added, noting that the Geneva talks is the mechanism which can be used for calming the situation.

It had already become known on December 17, the first day of the Geneva talks, that the Russian delegation and the representatives of the breakaway Republics have already declined to let EUMM observers fulfill their mission on the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The other issues being discussed in Geneva are an agreement on security in the region and preparations for the return of refugees.