Disappearances Spark Tension in South Ossetia

Tensions in Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia have been sparked again following the reported disappearance of four residents of Georgian ethnicity after they crossed over to Ossetian-controlled territory.

The four Georgians disappeared in the South Ossetian conflict zone on June 6. Chief of Police of the Shida Kartli region Vladimir Jugeli said that local law enforcement agencies, including South Ossetian law enforcers and peacekeepers, are investigating the case jointly.  

The disappearance follows on the heels of a shootout between the Ossetian militias and Georgian police on May 29 that left five people dead. Family members of the four men fear they might have fallen victim of a revenge kidnapping. Official Tbilisi also claims that the four Georgians were kidnapped, while the South Ossetian side claims that “These Georgians were involved in criminal business and their disappearance is linked with disputes among criminal gangs.”

At a news briefing on June 8 Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Bidzina Bregadze confirmed that this incident is being considered a kidnapping, adding that both the Georgian and South Ossetian law enforcers know about the kidnappers. “I call on this group to urgently release the hostages,” Bidzina Bregadze said at the news briefing.

Bregadze also called on South Ossetian law enforcers to take necessary measures to lead to the release of the hostages, adding that “the South Ossetian authorities fail to control the crime situation in the conflict zone.”

However, Tskhinvali links the incident with “criminal disputes”, claiming that the Georgians  “were involved in criminal business.”

Meanwhile, the Press and Information Committee of breakaway South Ossetia issued a statement on June 8 expressing protest over reinforcement of Georgian checkpoints in the conflict zone.

Georgian MP  Guram Vakhtangashvili from South Ossetia’s Didi Liakhvi constituency told Civil Georgia on June 8 that following the aggravation of the situation in the conflict zone, Georgian checkpoints deployed in the conflict zone have been strengthened.

The Georgian Interior Ministry is also calling on the population to refrain from moving within the conflict zone.  Meanwhile, Moscow is calling on both sides to exercise restraint.

In an information note issued on June 8 the Russian Foreign Ministry reports that after the clash in the South Ossetian conflict zone, which resulted in the death of four Ossetian armed men and one Georgian policeman on May 29 and “which could have triggered an ethnic conflict”, the tension was defused due to the active involvement of the Joint Control Commission.

“However the disappearance of four Georgians on June 6 has further aggravated the situation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry reports, refuting claims by the Georgian side that four men have been kidnapped.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called on the Georgian and South Ossetian authorities to hold urgent talks between their Interior Ministers.

The Georgian State Minster for Conflict Resolution Goga Khaindrava is expected to travel to Tskhinvali in an attempt to facilitate further cooperation with the South Ossetian authorities.


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