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Twenty-one captured Georgians released

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, November 2
The South Ossetian separatist authorities have finally released the Georgian farmers detained near the administrative border of the breakaway region.

The liberation of the detainees was conducted in two parts. The five farmers detained in Balta village were released on October 29, and a day later South Ossetian so-called law enforcers delivered the 16 other detainees to the Georgian side.

The Russian media has reported that the captured Georgians were released after the Georgian side paid a certain sum as a fine for “the illegal crossing of the South Ossetian border,” while the Georgian Interior Ministry underlined that the Georgian citizens were released “without any kind of preconditions.”

The arrested farmers were accused of “illegal woodcutting” on the territory controlled by the separatists. The EU Monitoring Mission has visited the location of the incident and confirmed the crossing of the administrative border, noting that “it is likely that some of the 16 individuals crossed the Administrative Boundary Line by less than 100 metres and in all probability between 30 to 50 metres.” That was considered a “significant” violation by the South Ossetian side. This position was supported by statements of the Russian Foreign Ministry, who denied suggestions that the detained persons were collecting firewood for winter. “16 citizens of Georgia have illegally cut down precious types of wood, which was later sent to furniture factories in Georgia,” stated Andrey Nesterenko, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, on October 29. This was categorically denied by Georgian officials. The Georgian Foreign Ministry called Nesterenko’s statement a “shameless lie.”

“The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman needs to be reminded that the internationally recognised borders of Georgia comprise both Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, whereas the Georgian Constitution and respective international legal acts uphold the right of any person to free movement throughout the territory of his/her own country,” stated the Ministry, adding that Tbilisi has already sent an official protest note to the Russian Government concerning the actions of Russian border guards on Georgian territory.

Regardless of the dispute over the causes of the detention the 21 Georgians have already returned home. The European Union monitors issued a special statement on the issue through its Head of Mission Ambassador Hansjorg Haber. “EUMM welcomes the release of the 16 Georgian woodcutters arrested by Russian Border Guards on 25 October in the area of Akhali Burguli. This follows the release yesterday of 5 Georgian citizens arrested in Balta on 25 October. We are happy that the circumstances of the arrest were clarified and that these people can now return to their families and their work”, Haber said. “Cooperation between Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and EUMM representatives has proved crucial in bringing this case to a prompt resolution”, he added. The protection of the residents of territories near to the administrative border is likely to be discussed at the next round of negotiations in Geneva. Before that the EUMM “urges law enforcement agencies on both sides of the administrative boundary line to keep exercising flexibility in dealing with similar cases. The nature of the administrative divide and the traditionally tight network of contacts between local residents is likely to keep resulting in accidental straying, especially during the harvesting season. Within the framework of the Incident Prevention and Reaction Mechanism, participants have repeatedly supported a gentlemen’s agreement according to which accidental trespassers should be sent back without being arrested or detained. A coherent implementation of this agreement would help prevent similar incidents and would positively impact on the living conditions of the local population.”