Clash Fuels Tensions in South Ossetia

An armed clash in the South Ossetian conflict zone on May 29, which resulted in the death of four Ossetian militias and one Georgian policeman, might undermine the relatively stable situation in the conflict zone, which persisted there since last August’s skirmishes between the two sides. Two other Georgian policemen were slightly injured. The recent shootout occurred amid a meeting of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission and talks between the Georgian and Russian Foreign Ministers, both planned for May 30.

The Georgian and South Ossetian sides each blamed each other for this shootout, which occurred on Sunday evening near the Georgian village of Tamarasheni.

According to the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee a car carrying servicemen of the South Ossetian Defense Ministry, which was en-route from Java to the capital Tskhinvali, was ambushed near the Georgian village of Tamarasheni after it was chased by two Georgian police cars. The car chase ended near Tamarasheni, where three Ossetian servicemen were killed and one badly injured; this fourth seviceman died in the hospital later. The skirmish also resulted in the death of one Georgian policeman, according to the South Ossetia Press and Information Committee.

The unrecognized republic’s Defense Ministry also reported that the four servicemen killed in the clash were Russian citizens of Ossetian origin. According to the authorities in South Ossetia, more than 90% of Ossetians in the breakaway region hold Russian passports.

In a statement issued by the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee, the Defense Ministry of the unrecognized republic accused the Georgian side of instigating the incident and demanded that those persons who attacked the car carrying the Ossetian servicemen be handed over to the South Ossetian authorities.

“We think that it was a planned provocation aimed at undermining the situation [in the conflict zone] on the eve of the JCC session. I also would like to note one fact: recently, Governor of Shida Kartli [central Georgian region, which officially includes the territory of S.Ossetia] Mikheil Kareli visited these [Georgian] villages in conflict zone. He [Kareli] is notorious [for conducting] activities which regularly fuel tensions in the conflict zone,” Barankevich said in an information note issued by the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee.

Reports by the Georgian side about this incident are sketchey. Officials in Tbilisi claims that the shootout started after the armed South Ossetian men attacked the police checkpoint near the village of Kurta.

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who visited the conflict zone after the incident, hinted that this clash could have been accidental. He said that the authorities in breakaway South Ossetia are not currently interested in fueling tensions and alleged that those Ossetian servicemen who, as he put it, “attacked” the Georgian police checkpoint were drunk.

Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava left for Tskhinvali on May 30 to participate in a session of a the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC), which oversees ceasefire and demilitarization process in the conflict zone. The JCC also involves representatives from South Ossetia, Russia and Russia’s North Ossetia.

“The incident confirmed that the process of demilitarization should urgently be launched in the conflict zone,” Khaindrava told reporters on May 30. He did not rule out that the incident aimed at thwarting the JCC session, which was originally planned to be held in North Ossetia’s capital Vladikavkaz but was changed to Tskhinvali after this incident. He also said that this incident could be “a provocation” against the demilitarization process in the conflict zone.

Meanwhile, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabachvili is visiting the Russian capital on May 30 for a brief working visit to meet with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to negotiate an agreement which is designed to regulate the strained ties between the two countries.

Along with the issue of withdrawal of two Russian military bases from Georgia, which, as anticipated, will top the agenda of the talks, issues related to conflict settlement, border delimitation and the visa regime will also be discussed, as these aspects of bilateral relations should also be reflected in a agreement, which, if agreed, will be signed by the Presidents of the two countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s information note issued on May 30 reads that this meeting between the two Foreign Ministers follows “active negotiations” between the two sides, which resulted in the positions over “most of the problems” drawing nearer.


Back to top button