Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili spoke of the situation in Georgia, primarily in its Russia-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia, at the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) on January 21.
According to Minister Tsikhelashvili, “unresolved conflict and Russia’s continued occupation of its territories” remains the major challenge for Georgia. “We are not dealing with the frozen conflict at all; the situation is by far not static, there is a dynamic on the ground, and it’s a negative one when it comes to security and humanitarian implications,” Tsikhelashvili stated.
The Georgian Minister said in her remarks that Moscow-backed authorities of both occupied regions “endorse black-and-white Russia’s full and exclusive control of all spheres of life.” She noted that Abkhazia and Tskhinvali “get increasingly isolated and militarized,” and that the number of Russian military personnel “grew to ten thousand,” while both occupied regions “get depleted from their original population 70 and 80% respectively.”
Minister Tsikhelashvili highlighted that “130 military drills are conducted annually on these territories, which turn them, especially South Ossetia, with its current mere population [of] 20,000, into nothing more than an extended [Russian] military base.”
“Meantime, access for international security mechanisms is still denied in breach of Russia’s commitments undertaken with EU-brokered ceasefire agreement in 2008,” Tsikhelashvili said, adding that 50 rounds of Geneva International Discussions (GIDs) “are trying to tackle this issue.”
The Reconciliation Minister also noted that “despite a very difficult environment,” Georgia is still “very committed to explore possibilities for progress in the single available and thus critically important venue for regular exchange on humanitarian and security issues.”
Tsikhelashvili added as well that the majority, 300 thousand Georgians “are in exile and are still denied from access back to their homes, while others live [in] the lack of prospects for development and horrendous environment.”
Grateful to the #EU for its already existing & highly valued formats & contributions, hope for future cooperation aimed to help on the new opportunities. Our coordinated efforts & joint endeavors is critical for successful conflict resolution&thus, durable peace & stability#AFET pic.twitter.com/G4ePqKGaN9
— Keti Tsikhelashvili (@TsikhelashviliK) January 21, 2020
Minister Tsikhelashvili then spoke of brief detention of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) patrol in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area, on Tbilisi-Administered Territory. She slammed this action by occupation forces as ”deplorable and arrogant.”
“The occupation regime does not shy away from blunt language of ultimatums demanding the Georgian police post – just one like the others along the occupation line – to be removed,” she added.
Georgian Minister then discussed ongoing occupation and fencing across the dividing line, noting that the area “turned into a scenery of a very alarming attempt of ‘borderization’ in the last couple of months.” “Obviously, there is an intention to come deeper beyond occupation line [by the occupation forces], take control of large segments of territories under the central government control right now,” she added.
Tsikhelashvili highlighted that “by now, 100 kilometers of barbed wires are dividing 116 villages in the heartland of Georgia. Now as we speak, since yesterday afternoon, Russian FSB forces resumed building iron fences [in] village Gugutiantkari, which saw ‘borderization’ episode already last August at the very anniversary of Russian intervention.”
- January 2020: Georgia Security Service Says Occupying Forces Continue Fencing on Tbilisi-Controlled Territory
- August 2019: Georgian Officials Condemn New Fencing in Gugutiantkari
Tsikhelashvili also spoke of the “full isolation and humanitarian crisis” that residents of occupied Tskhinvali, especially those living in Akhalgori district are facing amid the five-month closure of crossing points connecting the region with Georgia proper.
“Most dramatically, they [occupation forces] have taken a hostage of civilian and most vulnerable population to achieve these illegitimate goals. It’s now months since the only crossing point that connects Tskhinvali/South Ossetia to the rest of Georgia is completely shut down,” Tsikhelashvili highlighted.
“That comes hardest on population living in the only Georgian populated district called Akhalgori with 1500 people who find themselves in full isolation and humanitarian crisis,” Tsikhelashvili continued, stressing that “it is like cutting the lifeline, which supplies medication, food, basic products, pensions.”
“It literally cost lives, because we lost some people for the reason that they were denied to cross to the [Tbilisi]-controlled area for emergency medical help. The families are divided, parents and young children, respectively. The situation is far beyond any standards of humanity and can no longer be tolerated,” Georgian Minister underlined.
- EU Special Representative Klaar: Tskhinvali Crossing Points Need to be Reopened
- Amid Crossing Point Closure, Patient Dies after Delayed Transfer to Tskhinvali
Tsikhelashvili then told MEPs that “today with your permission, I speak the voice of these Akhalgorians, to convey their suffering and plea for support. Crossing should be resumed without any further delay and without any preconditions.”
Georgian Minister also stressed that there are thousands of others who suffer isolation and artificial divides, on the both sides of dividing line. In this respect, Tsikhelashvili said “in 2018 and 2019, six times more people have been captured by the Russian FSB guards in attempt to cross from the occupied side to rest of Georgia than vice versa. And FSB statistics officially tell the story. It’s very telling data how these divisions affect all.”
“This once again proves how dire the human rights situation is, how the basic rights are disregarded, including the right to life,” the Reconciliation Minister stated at AFET meeting.
Speaking the voice of the Akhalgorians at the EU Parliament to inform of their suffering & plea for support. The crossing needs to be resumed without any further delays & preconditions. I do believe we can make our voices stronger together to end this injustice@Europarl_EN #AFET pic.twitter.com/Lbcm3CeJRB
— Keti Tsikhelashvili (@TsikhelashviliK) January 21, 2020
Ketevan Tsikhelashvili also spoke of the release of Georgian doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili from Tskhinvali custody in late December, as well as the death cases of Georgian citizens Irakli Kvaratskhelia, Archil Tatunashvili, Giga Otkhozoria and Davit Basharuli in occupied regions, saying “despite all efforts, no justice is performed” against perpetrators.
Further, Minister Tsikhelashvili discussed ethnic discrimination of Georgians in Abkhazia’s easternmost Gali area. “40000 people in Gali district, in Abkhazia, again, the only Georgian area, are victims of this situation,” Georgian Minister said, adding that “they are exposed to clear ethnic discrimination, their basic rights are infringed and restricted, such as to property, to residence, to movement, education in native language.”
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She stressed that “their situation has become much worse since 2014, when the so called and now already ex-president of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba came to power.” “He now had to step down following the massive protest in Abkhazia region that shows discontent with dire situation on the ground,” Tsikhelashvili said.
“Current situation does not benefit the interests of any of us, Georgians, Abkhaz or Ossetians. We all suffer,” Tsikhelashvili underlined, noting that Georgia remains committed to its pro-active peace policy.