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Two of the underage Georgians still detained

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, December 4
Two of the four Georgian teenagers captured last month are still being held in Tskhinvali jail by the South Ossetian separatist authorities.

On the night of December 2 the de facto leadership of the breakaway region agreed to free the two youngest detainees, 14 year old Giorgi Romelashvili and Aleko Tsabadze. However their older friends Levan Khmiadashvili, 17, and Viktor Buchukuri, 16, were sentenced to one year prison terms, accused of “violation of the South Ossetian border” and “possession of explosive materials.”

The boys were liberated after the Georgian side exchanged them for five South Ossetian residents held by Georgian law enforcers. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg mediated the liberation and said that the other Georgian teens will be freed in 10 days according to agreements he has made with the de facto authorities. “Two boys are here; they go home tonight to their families. Two boys will be kept for another ten days and then they will be released; that is the situation,” stated the CoE Commissioner at a briefing in the village of Ergneti on Wednesday night.

The boys who have now returned to their home village of Tirdznisi have said that the South Ossetian militia “beat them” during the first day of their detention, but after that they were treated normally. Tsabadze and Romelashvili categorically deny having possessed any kind of explosives, saying that “Ossetians put the hand grenades in our bags”.

The Council of Europe has made a special statement on the affair. “We welcome the release of two of the four Georgian teenagers held in Tskhinvali by the de facto authorities in the Georgian region of South Ossetia and their safe return to their families. At the same time we emphasise the absolute necessity of releasing the remaining two minors within the coming days as promised,” CoE Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland and Chairperson of CoE Committee of Ministers Micheline Calmy-Rey said in a joint statement on December 3.

The release of the Georgian teenagers was welcomed by President Saakashvili's office. Manana Manjgaladze, the Presidential Administration’s Spokesperson, noted that the President was concerned by the "inhuman decision of the occupying forces" to keep the other two teenagers in Tskhinvali. She also said that the President was grateful to the CoE Human Rights Commissioner and the head of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia for their contribution to the release of the Tirdznisi boys.

The four Georgian teenagers were detained on the night of November 4 near the administrative border with breakaway South Ossetia. The separatist authorities claimed that the boys had four hand grenades and some explosives with them. They are all pupils of the Tirdznisi village secondary school. The Georgian side has described this incident as the “kidnapping of Georgian citizens”, laying responsibility for it on the Russian troops who control both the Georgian separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The immoral behaviour of the Russian occupiers has turned into total terror. The Kremlin openly demonstrates that it ignores international law and the position of the international community. The syndrome of non-punishment has been rooted in the Russian authorities to such a depth that illegality has become a norm in Russian politics. Yet another clear example of the aforesaid is that the occupants openly fight even with minors and still hold the teenagers kidnapped from Tirdznisi village in prison. The Georgian side calls upon the international community and relevant international organisations to make an adequate assessment of the criminal activities of the Russian Government and use all means for the prevention of similar incidents,” said the Georgian Foreign Ministry in a special statement concerning the detentions of Georgian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia published on December 2.