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Teens’ case “dirty propaganda” from Moscow, Tbilisi says

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, December 21
The issue of releasing the Georgian teenagers detained in Tskhinvali has become the subject of “dirty propaganda” in the hands of Russia, Georgian officials have said. Although the MPs and Government members assessed the release of three Georgian teens on December 19 as generally “positive,” they suggested that The Kremlin is “doing its best” to “create mistrust in Georgian people towards their Government.”

The critical comments followed former Prime Minister and leader of Movement for Fair Georgia Zurab Noghaideli’s visit to Tskhinvali on Saturday to negotiate the release of the Georgian detainees with the de facto authorities. Later his press service said that 17 year old Levan Khmiadashvili and 16 year old Viktor Buchukuri, detained on November 4, and 16-year old Gogita Archvade, detained by de facto law enforcers in July had been released. Noghaideli’s press service suggested that the release was the result of “successful” negotiations between him and secessionist officials. Noghaideli, who has also paid three visits to Moscow during the past three months, said that he had held talks with Russian officials on the issue of releasing the Georgian detainees during his most recent visit last week.

Ruling Party MPs suggested that the release was the result of the pressure Georgia has been putting on Russia through its international allies. “I welcome the release of the children, but as for the visit of some NGOs and Noghaideli to Tskhinvali, I think it is not normal for them to legitimise the bandit regime,” National Movement MP Goka Gabashvili said.

Some MPs suggested that Noghaideli was trying to raise his popularity rating by visiting Tskhinvali and negotiating the release of the teens. “Many politicians enter Georgia’s occupied territories and speak freely to the occupiers there. In this case Noghaideli entered the occupied land of our own country and is using the release of these children to increase his own political capital,” MP Eka Kherkheulidze said.

The leader of the Movement for Fair Georgia has said that gaining political points was not his goal. “My aim was to free the teenagers. You gain points only if you achieve a positive result, and this was the case,” Noghaideli told The Messenger. “The credibility of the Government in the Georgian population is already low,” he said, referring to the claims that The Kremlin was trying to lower it.

The de facto South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said that “establishing good neighbourly relations between Georgia and South Ossetia is inevitable”. According to information agency Osinform, he said this at a meeting with Noghaideli in Tskhinvali on Saturday. “It is necessary to make maximum efforts to restore the broken bridges between the two nations, despite the fact that under these bridges rivers of blood are flowing,” Osinform quoted Kokoity as saying. Osinform also reported that Noghaideli had stressed the importance of taking steps to “restore mutual trust between the brother nations.” “I think that currently this is the key issue,” the agency quoted him as saying.

South Ossetian media outlets also reported that Noghaideli had promised the de facto leader that he would start working on exchanging Georgian and South Ossetian prisoners on the “all for all” principle. Noghaideli confirmed this to The Messenger, saying that the de facto South Ossetian side had handed him a list of 35 people allegedly held in Georgian prisons. “Of course it is not appropriate to free all of them,” Noghaideli said, adding that some of the South Ossetian prisoners are suspected of crimes. The former Prime Minister said 11 Georgians are still in jail in Tskhinvali. “I will do my best to secure their release,” Noghaideli stated.

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, who also visited Tskhinvali on December 19 as part of his repeated attempts to release the Georgian detainees, said that freeing the teenagers is a good result, but work should be continued. Hammarberg noted that people on both sides who remain in detention should be freed and the information about the missing should be obtained. “Both sides agree that investigation should be transparent. This was the first step towards resolving this problem. I hope that in the future things will continue the same way. Both sides should realise that people should not become the subjects for political trade,” Interpressnews quoted Hammarberg as saying.