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Georgians still detained in South Ossetia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, October 30
Most of the 21 Georgian citizens detained by Russian border guards on the administrative border of South Ossetia over the last few days are still detained by the separatist authorities, although five were released as this newspaper went to press late yesterday evening.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM), which is actively involved in the process of resolving this issue, has reported that Georgian, Russian, de facto South Ossetian and EUMM representatives visited the area where 16 Georgian citizens were arrested on October 29. “The intent of the meeting was to attempt to ascertain the facts and bring the incident to a satisfactory conclusion for all parties,” states EUMM.

The authorities of the breakaway region continue to accuse the arrested Georgians of the “violation of the state border”. This same allegation was made against the 16 Georgian firewood cutters detained on October 25 and 5 farmers arrested a day later. “They [South Ossetian authorities] have detained 21 people now, and unfortunately there is still nothing new to report in this case,” Spokesperson for the Georgian Interior Ministry Shota Utiashvili told The Messenger on Thursday.

The South Ossetian side confirmed that it met EUMM and Georgian representatives in the relevant area of the administrative border but stated that “as a result of observation of the area it was determined that the Georgian citizens did in fact violate the state border and significantly penetrate into the territory of South Ossetia. This was orally confirmed by the EUMM observers and Georgian representatives.” Merab Chigoev, who represents the separatist leader on “post-conflict issues”, noted however that the EU monitors and Georgian authorities refused to sign a document confirming this “significant penetration” presented by the de facto South Ossetian Prosecutor’s Office.

EUMM underlines that “All participants [of the meeting] accepted that it is likely that some of the 16 individuals crossed the [South Ossetian] Administrative Boundary Line by less than 100 metres and in all probability between 30 and 50 metres. Although different versions of the event were voiced, it was universally agreed that there was no malicious intent to cross the Administrative Boundary Line on the part of the woodcutters.”

Speaking about the future of the remaining detainees, South Ossetian de facto officials state that they will be treated in accordance with the “laws of the South Ossetian Republic.” “I can only hope that they will not be punished so savagely as the Georgian authorities punish detained Ossetians,” stated Chigoev, referring to South Ossetian claims that two of its residents are held by Georgian law enforcers.

“EUMM considers that the detainees should be released at the earliest possible opportunity and that this incident should be used as an occasion to elaborate a broader framework to facilitate cross-boundary activities for the local population,” announced EU monitors in the statement published after the October 28 meeting.