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De facto South Ossetia restricting border crossing, Tbilisi says

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, January 21
The de facto South Ossetian authorities have tightened administrative border crossing procedures in the Akhalgori region, the local authorities reported on Wednesday. Residents of Akhalgori will now have to obtain identity documents translated into Russian and approved by a notary in order to enter the region.

The move comes a day after the Georgian side reported that similar measures were being taken at the Russian checkpoint in the village of Perevi, Imereti region. Russian “border guards” are checking the baggage and the documents of every passenger, Sachkhere Governor Zurab Tsertsvadze said on Tuesday. “The restrictions have been imposed from January 10," he said, “apparently aimed at psychologically pressuring the local residents".

The de facto authorities say that the restrictions at the Akhalgori checkpoint have been imposed because Russian soldiers do not speak Georgian. Tbilisi however has described them as a violation of international norms. “It has become clear that Russia is not only failing to meet its commitments under the ceasefire agreement but also violating international norms,” Vice Speaker of Parliament Gigi Tsereteli said. “Georgia should respond adequately to these actions and international organisations should also do their best to prevent the illegal actions of the separatist regimes,” he added.

On January 6 Georgian MP Paata Daviataia had warned about alleged plans to restrict administrative border crossing. He also warned that the de facto Abkhazian Government would restrict “border” crossing at the Enguri checkpoint from February 1, 2010. “The de facto authorities are planning to install special machines to identify fingerprints there,” he said. Davitaia noted that he would raise this issue at the upcoming Winter Session of the Council of Europe on January 25.

The de facto South Ossetian side has denied the allegations of Tbilisi and accused the Georgian media of spreading false information about the restrictions in Perevi. “This kind of information is aimed at aggravating the situation in the borderline regions,” information agency RES reported the Russian Federal Security Service Border Department in South Ossetia as saying. “These kinds of statements have previously been made in connection with the Akhalgori region as well” the Federal Security Service said. The Russian “border” guards met EU monitors twice last week, RES reported. At both meetings the sides agreed to keep in contact to maintain stability at the “borderline” regions, according to the information agency.

Meanwhile de facto Abkhazian law enforcers have released 42 school pupils detained at the administrative border with de facto Abkhazia. They were on their way to school in Tskoushi village, in the Tsalenjikha region, when detained early on Wednesday. The Russian “border” policemen took the detainees to the FSB (Federal Security Service) building in Gali, the Abkhazian Government-in-Exile's press service told The Messenger. Abkhazian Education Minister in Exile Dali Khomeriki visited Zugdidi on January 20 to obtain details of the incident onsite. “The pupils were walking from Saberio (Abkhazia) to the Tsalenjikha region by back roads when Russian guards stopped them and told them to walk on the main road through the Russian checkpoint. The guards detained them, returned them to Gali and kept them in detention for several hours. Later they were released,” Khomeriki told journalists.

Khomeriki noted that no Russian guards were usually patrolling on the section of road where the pupils were detained. “Today’s incident indicates that they are now going to block this back road. This might create some problems for pupils living in Saberio, as they will not be able to go to the Georgian schools in the Tsalenjikha regions and will have to study at Russian schools in Saberio,” Khomeriki stated.

The detention of the pupils was discussed at Wednesday’s Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meeting in Gali. The sides agreed to start monitoring schools in Gali, the advisor to the Chairman of the Abkhazian Government-in-Exile Levan Tevzaia said. The de facto authorities rejected the Georgian proposal to restore transport links between Gali and Zugdidi, according to Tevzaia. The next IPRM meeting is scheduled for February 10.