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Fearing Coronavirus, occupied Tskhinvali closes last crossing point, Abkhazia extends travel ban

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, February 28
The Russian controlled Abkhazia region has announced it is barring entry 'to all foreigners,' including the only crossing point connecting the region with the rest of Georgia because of the new coronavirus.

The decision to close the border was made on February 26, but yesterday, February 27, several dozen citizens crossed the so-called border. Citizens traveling from occupied Abkhazia to Zugdidi via Enguri Bridge told Radio Liberty correspondent that the border was expected to close by 17:00. The occupation forces closed the 'border' near the Enguri Bridge at 13:00.

'News Agency' reported that the de facto acting president, Valery Bganba extended a ban which prevents foreign nationals from entering the occupied region, “except for the nationals, to which the Republic of Abkhazia International agreements has the establishment a visa-free regime.”

Travel restrictions were first imposed on January 27 in connection with the outbreak of coronavirus in China. The ban excludes nationals of the Russian Federation.

The decision to prolong the ban was voiced during a cabinet meeting which was held to discuss Sokhumi’s response to the rapidly spreading infection.

Abkhaz 'Minister' of health and welfare said: “We closely monitor the epidemic outbreak and take steps to enhance quarantine control at the crossing checkpoints on river Enguri.”

Travel ban on foreign nationals will expire on April 7.

The Russian-controlled Tskhinvali authorities have announced the closure of the last, Kartsmani crossing point in Sachkhere municipality, connecting the region with the rest of Georgia to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

According to the de-facto Security Council, "a decision has been taken to prevent a coronavirus explosion on the territory of the Republic of South Ossetia from completely shutting down all the launch sites at the South Ossetian-Georgian border, before taking appropriate instructions."

The de facto authorities closed Razdakhani and Sinaguri crossing points in early September of 2019, creating a severe humanitarian situation on the ground. They did so after the central Georgian government opened a police post in the village of Chorchana, Khashuri municipality, on the Tbilisi-controlled territory at the end of August 2019. De facto authorities say that the police post “is too close to South Ossetia, creating security threats to our population.”

De facto president of Tskhinvali said in early January 2020 that the crossing points will reopen only after Tbilisi removes the police post.

Until now, the de facto authorities had only opened so-called Kardzman's so-called Checkpoint, which connects the occupied Tskhinvali region with the rest of Georgia via the Sachkhere municipality.

Representatives of the occupation forces arrested Eldar Gundishvili, a resident of the village of Adzvi, Gori, on the charge of breaking the border yesterday. His wife says she watched from his yard how Eldar Gundishvili was collecting firewood near the yard where gunmen abducted him.

The family of the illegally detained person is asking for help from the authorities because of the difficult social situation, they cannot pay the fine. The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) has already been informed of the incident and the emergency hotline activated.

16-year-old Aleko Shiukashvili from Kirbalali was also arrested on February 22 with the same charges. He was handed over to Georgian law enforcement at the Ergneti police checkpoint 24 hours later.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani stated that the issue of kidnapping of Georgian citizens has to be raised at the meeting concerning Incident Prevention Mechanisms, as well as at Geneva discussions.