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Georgian Interior Minister talks about war and khinkali

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, October 24
Vano Merabishvili, Georgia’s Minister of Internal Affairs, has conducted his first online conference on the Ministry’s official web page. The conference lasted for three hours, and the topics varied from the Georgian-Russian war to the Minister’s culinary tastes.

Asked about the postwar situation in Georgia, Merabishvili stressed several times that the danger of the re-escalation of the conflict still exists. According to the Minister Georgia’s main goal in the August war was to “stop the Russian aggression and protect Georgian citizens in the conflict zones.” Merabishvili expressed his regret that the international community was not “actively interested” in the situation in Georgia before the conflict.

Many of the questions sent to the Minister concerned mistakes made by Georgia during the war, one of the most popular issues being the inability of Georgia to close the Roki Tunnel, which enabled Russian troops to enter breakaway South Ossetia and occupy Georgian territory. “Georgian aviation does not possess shells strong enough to destroy the Roki Tunnel, so the Russians took control of it on August 6,” the Minister said. He also mentioned that the tunnel was not the only route the Russians could have used. “There is an alternative to the tunnel; it’s an auto road, further up on the range.” Merabishvili also denied that Georgia had violated international law. Answering a question from The Messenger about the use of Grad rocket launcher systems, forbidden in populated areas, Merabishvili said that “Georgian military forces used Grad only around Tskhinvali to destroy the firing positions of Ossetian and Russian troops. If we had used Grad in the city itself; it would have seen much more damage; that didn’t happen. The contrary is just disinformation created by Russian propaganda.”

Speaking about the situation in Georgian towns invaded by Russians and Ossetian separatists, the Minister said that the Government is trying to provide all kinds of assistance. He mentioned that with the help of international donors, the Georgian Government has started repairing more than 6,000 destroyed homes. He also said that all refugees will receive 0.5-1 hectare of land from the Government, as well as the possibility of finding a job in Government service. Merabishvili said that the amount and forms of assistance available will be more clearly explained in future.

Participants of the forum were also interested in the role of the Interior Ministry in the August conflict. “Ministry employees have completely fulfilled their tasks,” Merabishvili said, stressing that the recovery of the Ministry after the war would “not take long” because “the Special Forces did not suffer many losses.” Merabishvili said that about 60 policemen were killed in the conflict zones during the conflict. He stressed that in the postwar period the lives of his employees are also under threat, especially those who serve in the so-called buffer zones, those previously occupied by Russian troops and bordering the conflict regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The buffer zones are not safe for the police, and the incident two days ago when a police car hit a mine illustrates this. That is why we deploy Special Forces, which have better protective equipment, together with ordinary police. We permanently discuss these issues with the EU monitoring mission. Certainly, we do not plan to discuss this with the Russians,” said Merabishvili.

The Minister refused to reveal information about the latest plans to re-arm the Georgian Army or the number of khinkali, a Georgian traditional food, which he can eat at one time. However he revealed that he prefers the “kalakuri” type of khinkali to any other, and stated that he hopes to conduct another online conference in future. He pointed out that next time, the topic of conversation will differ. “I will be pleased to answer your questions about our victory,” he said.