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Georgia detains four Ossetians on drug, weapons charges

By Mikheil Svanidze
Tuesday, July 22
Georgian police detained four Ossetian men on their way from Gori to the breakaway region on Sunday, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the four men face drug and weapons charges.

South Ossetian separatist officials were first to report the arrests, which they say are in retaliation for the arrest of a Georgian citizen in the region earlier the same day.

The South Ossetian separatist press and information committee said the Georgian was arrested on murder charges near the Georgian-controlled village of Nikozi, close to the de facto secessionist capital.

The Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said the South Ossetians arrested an “innocent man,” but denied any link between the two incidents.

“We will do our best to free this innocent person,” he said.

Irina Gagloeva, head of the South Ossetian separatist press and information committee, said justice would have to take its course: “There are certain charges against this man, we will find out whether he is guilty or not and release him if he is not guilty.”

Gagloeva said the Ossetian detainees were taxi drivers and a lawyer, not criminals. The South Ossetian de facto interior minister, Mikhail Mindzaev, alleged the four Ossetians are being held under threat of torture.

“There’s a demand from the Georgian side that if we don’t release [alleged Georgian murderer Teimuraz] Goginashvili, then every hour, the hostages will be tortured, physical force will be used against them and they won’t be freed until Goginashvili’s freed,” the South Ossetian press committee’s website quoted Mindzaev as saying.

Utiashvili said the torture allegation is “a lie.”

The South Ossetian official said negotiations are underway to free the Ossetian detainees. He linked the two arrests, saying the Georgian “murderer”—who allegedly killed his victims with a blowtorch—would not be freed until the investigation into his case is finished. He did not give a suggestion as to how long that would take.

Earlier this month in breakaway South Ossetia separatist authorities detained four Georgian soldiers overnight before releasing them July 8.

Two days later, Russia acknowledged that it sent its warplanes over the region the same day the Georgian soldiers were released. The UN Security Council met late yesterday night local time over the incident, which prompted a furious Tbilisi to withdraw its ambassador from Moscow.