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Bibilov to Akhalgorians: Movement to Georgia Proper Will Remain Restricted

Kremlin-backed Tskhinvali leader Anatoly Bibilov has told ethnic Georgians living in the occupied Akhalgori district that movement to Georgia-controlled territory will remain restricted until Tbilisi keeps the police checkpoint in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area.

“I know you want to travel, to see your relatives. I am not against it, I am against using S. Ossetia for Georgia’s internal problems,” Bibilov, soon seeking reelection, reportedly told Akhalgorians on April 1.

Justifying years-long restrictions on the movement, he said: “After Georgia put up an illegal post on the territory of the republic of S. Ossetia, we made that decision [to halt the movement]. It was the right decision.”

“Do not let yourself be deceived. Others have told you ‘Choose me and we will open the road’… But you will be deceived, the road will not be opened, because it is directly related to politics.”

“Probably many people think that some time will pass and Leningori* district will be part of Georgia. Let us not deceive ourselves with illusions,” he added.

Tskhinvali began the closure of major crossing points in Odzisi and Sinaguri in September 2019, citing threats coming from Tbilisi following the Chorchana-Tsnelisi police checkpoint escalation.

The Odzisi crossing point, which connects the Akhalgori district to the rest of Georgia, served up to 400 crossings on average every day prior to closure.

In 2020, citing the COVID-19 outbreak, Bibilov’s administration closed all five crossing points with Georgia proper, exposing the region’s residents to a severe humanitarian situation, chiefly caused by delayed medical transfers to Tbilisi.

Georgia’s State Ministry for Reconciliation, overseeing occupied regions, reported in November 2020 that the closure had claimed the lives of 16 people over delayed medical transfers.

Also in November 2020, the media reported that Tskhinvali allowed Akhalgori residents to use the “family reunification program” and permanently leave their homes to “reunify” with their relatives in the Georgian-controlled territory.

*The Municipality of Akhalgori (called Leningor by Kremlin-backed authorities as per Soviet tradition), the territory of which was almost entirely under the jurisdiction of the central government before the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, is home to 4,209 persons (roughly half of the pre-war population), according to Tskhinvali authorities. 55.5% (2,337) of the total population are ethnic Georgians.

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