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The Operation Goes On as Protests Widen in Pankisi

Akhmeta residents are unhappy with measures taken by the law enforcers against the criminals in Pankisi gorge. Four thousand persons started a protest in Akhmeta on January 28 to demand decisive action from the ministries of Interior and the State Security.

Three captured criminals, two of whom surrendered voluntarily; two injured Kists that assisted the police and 3 Akhmeta residents wounded by the Security Ministry men – this is an outcome of the anti-criminal operation in Pankisi started on January 15.

Two kidnapped persons in Pankisi still remain in the criminals’ custody.

All governmental bodies in Akhmeta are on strike. Only the hospitals are operating. The residents warn that if the law enforcers fail to regulate the situation, then the people will take arms and form fighter groups to combat the criminals.

While meeting with the protesters in Akhmeta on January 28, Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili declared that he would be personally responsible for curbing the crime in the gorge.

Narchemashvili states that he has made some personnel decisions in Akhmeta police. For the third time in a year the chief of local police was dismissed. The regional police commander would be in charge of Akhmeta police, instead of dismissed Gocha Nazgaidze.

Besides, Narchemashvili promised to the protesters to deploy additional forces to Pankisi gorge and set up some new checkpoints.

Some disconcerted protesters demand for the President Eduard Shevardnadze to come to Akhmeta and meet them. In his radio interview of January 27 Shevardnadze said that for him “it is not a problem to go there” but it is not necessary yet.

Law enforcers and politicians fear increased tensions among Chechen refugees and local residents might escalate into violence. The voices of the official Tbilisi speak more loudly on the need to repatriate 7000 Chechen refugees. Akhmeta share the demand.

Chairman of the National Security Council of the Russian Federation Vladimir Rushailo discussed this matter with President Shevardnadze during his visit to Tbilisi on January 29-30.

Rushailo stated after the meeting with President Shevardnadze on January 29, that the delegation of Russian Emergency Ministry will arrive in Georgia in the nearest future to work over the refugees’ repatriation problems.

Former Parliamentary Chairman Zurab Zhvania believes that the problems in Pankisi emerged when the Georgian authorities let the refugees into the country without any filtration. In result “the people that were not supposed to be in Pankisi, appeared in the gorge.” said Zhvania in his interview to Rustavi 2 TV on January 28.

After accepting the refugees to Pankisi, Georgia is being continuously blamed by Russia for harboring fighters of Chechen and other nationality. President Shevardnadze has been pledging that there are mostly children and women from Chechnya in Pankisi, however he did not exclude the possibility that criminals could also have entered Georgia together with these refugees.

The start of anti-criminal operation by the Ministries of Interior and State Security so far failed to present any decisive changes.

Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia>


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