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Hammarberg to visit Tskhinvali again

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, December 17
The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, is visiting Georgia to negotiate the release of the two Georgian teenagers who have been held in a Tskhinvali jail since November 4 on charges of illegal possession of explosives and “border” crossing. Hammarberg will also visit Tskhinvali and meet the de facto authorities, according to Georgian officials.

The Human Rights Commissioner visited the de facto republic on December 2 and handed 5 Ossetian detainees to the Tskhinvali authorities. In return, the de facto court gave two of the four Georgian teens, Aleko Tsabadze and Giorgi Romelashvili, both 14, one year conditional sentences and freed them from jail. Hammarberg said after his visit that the de facto officials had promised to free the remaining two detainees ten days later, but 16 and 17 year old Viktor Buchukuri and Levan Khmiadashvili are still in jail.

On Tuesday Hammarberg met the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Gregory Karasin, in Moscow. Among other issues the sides discussed the situation in Georgia’s conflict zones and the results of Hammarberg’s last visit to the region, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry website. “They noted that the humanitarian problems existing in the region should be resolved. Karasin and Hamerberg think that trust between the sides should be restored and the Georgian and Ossetian sides should exchange detainees,” the website reads.

The de facto Tskhinvali authorities claimed on Tuesday that the Georgian side had refused to participate in a conflict regulation meeting scheduled for December 17. The de facto Special Representative in Post Conflict Regulation Issues, Boris Chochiev, said that holding a meeting in Ergneti had been agreed during the OSCE delegation's visit to Tskhinvali on December 14.

“Today the OSCE representatives called me and said that the Georgian side has refused to meet us unless the Georgian citizens detained on November 4 are freed. This means that the Georgian side is blackmailing us and politicising the fact, which is inadmissible,” Osinform quoted Chochiev as saying. The Georgian Interior Ministry denied thwarting any meeting with de facto Ossetian officials. “We do not understand what meeting the Tskhinvali regime is talking about. No meeting was agreed, so no meeting has been cancelled,” Shota Utiashvili, the Spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a special statement on December 15 saying that 14 citizens of Georgia were being held in “illegal custody” by Russian and Ossetian forces. These people had been detained over the last year since the end of the August 2008 conflict with Russia, the Ministry said. “Currently they are being held in Tskhinvali in complete violation of international law. Despite the efforts of the Georgian authorities and the European Union's Monitoring Mission in Georgia, their release has not yet been achieved,” the statement reads.

According to the Foreign Ministry, “as a gesture of goodwill” the Georgian side has released several local residents detained during and after the August 2008 conflict for “such crimes as robbery, looting and illegal possession of weapons.” “The Georgian side believes that the unconditional release of all persons detained during and after the war will contribute to the rebuilding of trust between the "war-torn" societies and will be conducive to stability on the ground,” the MFA statement reads.

A group of human rights activists visited Tskhinvali on Wednesday and met officials including de facto President Eduard Kokoity. Paata Zakareishvili, Manana Mebuke and Vakhtang Komakhidze visited the Georgian detainees, according to the South Ossetian media. De facto Deputy Representative on Post Conflict Regulation Issues Merab Chigoev said that the South Ossetian side had given the delegation its vision on releasing the detainees. “We told them that we want to see some progress in this direction, exchange all to all and start again from scratch. They listened to us, and although these people are not Government representatives, we still hope that some objective steps will be taken,” Interpressnews quoted Chigoev as saying.