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Confrontation in Ganmukhuri

Tensions in the Abkhaz conflict zone involving standoff between the Russian peacekeepers and Georgian interior ministry forces were defused on October 30 after the Russian troops released at least four Georgian policemen detained earlier on the same day.

The incident took place in the Georgian-administered village of Ganmukhuri on the border with the breakaway Abkhazia.

News about the incident first broke at 2 pm local time when the Georgian televisions reported that Russian peacekeeping forces, backed with armored vehicles besieged a patriotic camp in Ganmukhuri and detained servicemen from the Interior Ministry’s special purpose unit. The camp is temporarily defunct since the end of summer season. Some reports said five were detained; commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces, Sergey Chaban, however, said that four policemen were detained.

First footage aired by the Georgian televisions showed Zaza Gorozia, governor of Samegrelo region, as well as Georgian police officers scuffling and shouting to Russian peacekeepers demanding to immediately release Georgian police officers. No details were reported at that time.

At about 3 pm the Georgian Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that Russian peacekeepers, with the involvement of military hardware, intruded into the territory near the Ganmukhuri patriotic camp and “took several Georgian policemen in hostages and beat them up brutally.”

The statement also said that the Georgian side had put its interior ministry forces on high alert after a shootout occurred between the Georgian forces and Russian peacekeepers.

Shortly after this statement, the Georgian televisions aired new footage showing Georgian servicemen from the interior ministry’s special purpose unit and Russian peacekeepers standing face-to-face and pointing guns at each other. Footage also showed some Russian peacekeepers firing several shots into the air. No casualties were reported during the incident.

Less than 30 minutes later news broke that President Saakashvili arrived in at the incident site in Ganmukhuri.

Later televisions aired footage showing President Saakashvili, surrounded by bodyguards armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and accompanied by several UN observers, shouting at chief of staff of the Russian peacekeeping troops near the incident site.

“What is this? I am asking you what is this?” Saakashvili was shouting at the Russian officer and pointing at one of the beaten Georgian police officers who had blood over his face. The latter was among those officers detained earlier by the Russian peacekeepers.

Then Saakashvili continued by angrily speaking to chief of staff of the peacekeeping troops: “Instead of protecting the local population, the peacekeepers have been turning a blind eye on killings, kidnappings and extortions for years. We created this youth camp in compliance with the Georgian laws. We established a police post to protect it. You attacked the police this morning, in violation of your mandate, in violation of all international norms, in violation of the mandate, including that of the UN Observer Mission, which also was inactive, and you have beaten up our policemen, who were protecting peaceful population here.”

“Immediately take your servicemen from here so that they never return here, because we have ordered to stand on the defensive in case of consequent attacks. And you know that we have all means at our disposal to respond appropriately.”

“Tell your commander, Mr. Chaban, that I announce him as an undesirable person in Georgia. In the nearest days he should leave the territory of Georgia.”

“I want you to know that Sokhumi is a part of Georgia, like Ganmukhuri, Zugdidi and Tbilisi. You should immediately put everything in order here. We expect apologies for beating up our police officers and we expect suspension of any provocations. This is a firm position of the Georgian authorities. The Georgian authorities would make a statement regarding the Russian peacekeepers’ future fate here in the near future.”

“If such an incident occurs again, you will drag Russia and Georgia in a huge provocation. I warn you, your provocations will not work here any more. We are very decisive. Remember it well.”

Later on October 30 the Rustavi 2 TV aired footage, reportedly, showing the moment when Georgian police officers were detained. The footage, according to the Rustavi 2 TV, was shot by Russian peacekeepers themselves. The television station said that the video tape was “seized” by its correspondent, Ema Gogokhia, when she was scuffling with Russian peacekeepers, who in turn wanted to seize her video camera.

The footage shows Georgian police officers, initially, verbally arguing with at least dozen of Russian peacekeepers. This verbal argument, then, grew into scuffle, which resulted into Georgian police officers’ detention. The footage also shows handcuffed five policemen laying on the ground and Russian peacekeepers beating them.

Davit Kezerashvili, the Georgian defense minister; Vano Merabishvili, the interior minister and Gigi Ugulava, Tbilisi Mayor, were also accompanying President Saakashvili in Ganmukhuri.

The command of Russian peacekeeping forces provided different account of events, conflicting from the one offered by the Georgian officials.

Sergey Chaban, the commander of the Russian troops in the conflict zone, said that peacekeepers were on a routine patrol in a lower zone of Gali district (on the Abkhaz side of the border) and in the Zugdidi district (on the Georgian side of the border). In the village of Ganmukhuri, he said, the Georgian police officers provoked an incident by threatening to shoot Russian servicemen and to burn their armored vehicles.

Commander of the Russian peacekeepers Sergey Chaban told RIA Novosti news agency that his troops were ready to release Georgian policemen, but for two and a half hours the Georgian authorities were hindering this process.

“During two and a half hours we were waiting for the decision of the Georgian authorities to take the policemen. Finally, the issue was solved only after President Saakashvili arrived in Ganmukhuri. Without him, the local authorities, having obviously been instructed from superiors, refused to take their policemen,” Chaban said.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz leader, Sergey Bagapsh told Interfax news agency that the Abkhaz side was reinforcing its checkpoints in the Gali district.

“We are sending additional troops in the Gali district at the border with Georgia to prevent possible provocations from the Georgian side,” he said. “Russian peacekeepers are performing their duties in frames of the existing mandate and the Georgian side should not create obstacles while they are patrolling the area.”

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