Officials Call on Georgians in S.Ossetia for Restraint

Two days of search operations, carried out by both Georgian and South Ossetian law enforcers, in cooperation with the joint peacekeeping forces stationed in the conflict zone in an attempt to find four missing Georgians, have yielded little results. Georgian officials have already hinted that these four Georgian men, who disappeared in the conflict zone on June 6, could be victims of revenge carried by relatives of four Ossetians who were killed by Georgian police in the conflict zone on May 29.

The current situation in the conflict zone became an issue for brief debates in the Parliament on June 14. Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze said at the parliamentary session that despite “the tense situation” in conflict zone, the Georgian side has no plans to deploy extra troops in the Georgian villages in breakaway South Ossetia.

“I understand the concerns of the local population [of the conflict zone] but I want to call on them to keep calm and not to yield to provocations. We have no intention of deploying [extra] troops there because we do not want to repeat the situation which occurred there last summer [August, 2004, when clashes erupted between Ossetian militias and Georgian troops],” Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze said.

She also said that Tbilisi wants this conflict to be solved through peaceful means, but also warned that the Georgian side’s “response will be very strict if measures are undertaken against us.” She also slammed the peacekeeping forces for their insufficient activities to ensure security in the conflict zone.

Burjanadze’s comments follow a statement made by MP Guram Vakhtangashvili, who represents South Ossetia’s Georgian-populated Didi Liakhvi constituency, stating that the Georgian residents in the conflict zone want the central authorities of Georgia to increase security measures in the Georgian villages, especially after the disappearance of these four Georgians in the conflict zone on June 6. MP Vakhtangashvili has been recently accused by South Ossetian officials of inciting tensions in the conflict zone by misinforming local Georgians there.
At the parliamentary session on June 14 MP Pikria Chikhradze from the opposition New Rights party pushed the issue of increasing the number of Georgian servicemen in the Joint Peacekeeping Forces. The Russian, Georgian and Ossetian sides have the right to deploy a maximum of 500 soldiers in the conflict zone as part of the Joint Peacekeeping Force there.

“We are not talking about sending in extra troops to South Ossetia; what we are demanding is to deploy the number of peacekeepers which we are authorized to have there. Currently there are only several dozen Georgian peacekeepers in the conflict zone, while we have right to have 500. We have not heard a reasonable explanation from the government why it happens so,” MP Pikria Chikhradze said.

Meanwhile, search operations for the four Georgians – Hamlet, Mamuka and Galaktion Khachapuridze – all cousins- and Mamuka Lomidze, that disappeared there continued on June 14 in the territories under the control of the authorities of breakaway South Ossetia. The Georgian law enforcers are participating in this search operation as observers. A similar search operation, held on the Georgian controlled territories, brought no results on June 13.

The Georgian Interior Ministry accused two Ossetians – Rudik Bestaev and Atsamas Kochiev – on June 13 of abducting these four Georgians. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, Atsamas Kochiev is son of Anatoly Kochiev. The latter was among those four Ossetians who died in a clash with the Georgian police near the village of Tamarasheni on May 29. One Georgian policeman was also killed in the clash. According to the Interior Ministry, these two men suspected in the abduction are allegedly members of the criminal gang known as the ‘textile district,’ which is based in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

“Retaliation is one possible version that has been considered by the law enforcers from since the very beginning [of the investigation],” Goga Khaindrava, the Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues said on June 13.

Goga Khaindrava said in an interview with Imedi television on June 13 that uncontrolled armed groups and criminal gangs in South Ossetia are “a major headache” not only for Tbilisi, but for the authorities in the breakaway region as well.

But the authorities in breakaway South Ossetia have denied this report by the Georgian Interior Ministry. “There is no fact which can confirm that these two men are linked with the disappearance of the Georgian citizens,” a statement issued by the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee on June 14 reads. 

The South Ossetian authorities are offering 50,000 Russian Rubles (approximately USD 1,700) as a reward for valuable information that may help solve this case.

Details of the shootout in Tamarasheni on May 29 also remain vague and both sides are blaming the other for this incident. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, Georgian police opened fire after a small group of Ossetian militias attacked a police checkpoint. But the South Ossetian side challenged this report, stating the fact that it was unreasonable for only four Ossetians to start shooting in the Georgian-controlled area, which is surrounded by Georgian police checkpoints.


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