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Illegal detentions in the breakaway regions-a local or international problem?

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, May 10
Statements concerning the complicated situation of Georgia's de facto borders have been heard with increased frequency recently. More than ten Georgians who were busy picking vegetables and fruits near the border with South Ossetia were detained by Russian border guards. State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili has stated that the situation regarding Russian detention of Georgian citizens has not improved or worsened over the years.

According to a statement released by the Interior Ministry, 11 Georgian citizens have been released from illegal custody after intensive negotiations. The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) played a major role in the 11 captives' release. Along with the 10 agricultural workers another Georgian citizen detained earlier was also released.

All of the detainees were arrested for "illegally crossing" the so-called administrative border of the Tskhinvali region, currently under Russian occupation.

The EUMM has recently noted with concern an increase of detentions near the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line. In this context, the EUMM has helped create dialogue between the two sides.

"Restricting freedom of movement directly affects the livelihood of the local population, an issue the Mission continues to monitor closely within its mandate." the EUMM mission statement reads.

Members of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) have suggested that the number of detained people has significantly increased recently.

According to UNM MP Gigi Tsereteli the outcome of the situation will be an increase in international missions in the occupied regions and those areas bordering them.

Minister Zakareishvili stressed that the number of illegally detained people has not changed and that the Russians frequently detained Georgian citizens during the UNM administration.

According to Zakareishvili, the new government and the international mission in Georgia have managed to shorten detained individuals' detention terms.

"Of course it is not much to be proud of but we have managed to get people out of detention after several days when it used to take several months." Zakareishvili stated before describing the UNM's claims that the number of detentions has increased as a "provocation".

Many residents near the South Ossetian border pick agricultural crops for a living. According to locals those who cross the administrative border are detained immediately. However, the locals also stressed that they were not detained for the action earlier.

Analyst in conflict issues Malkhaz Chemia states that the detention of local residents by the Russian authorities might be discussed in the frame of international policy and should not be viewed as just ordinary arrests.

Chemia claims that the Kremlin is not very favorably disposed towards the new Georgian Dream government due to its pro-Western orientation.

"The situation concerning Iran and Israel is very complicated. Russia needs a direct route to Iran and the Abkhazian railway is the only overland transportation route available. Step by step Russia will take moves to reopen the railway between Abkhazia and Georgia. It is possible that the recent series of detentions near the Georgian border is a way for the Russian government to pave a way for Georgia to allow the railway link between Abkhazia and Georgia to be reopened." Chemia told The Messenger.

Chemia added that the Georgian government must not allow the Abkhazian railway link to be reopened as it will seriously complicate Georgia's relations with Israel and Azerbaijan. By reopening the railway Russia will have better transportation links with Armenia, which is not in Azerbaijan's interests.