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Georgia and South Ossetia exchange detainees

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, February 22
Yesterday the Georgian and de facto South Ossetian authorities exchanged 7 detainees each. The persons, who were detained after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict, were handed over at the village of Ergneti at the administrative border between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia. According to Tskhinvali officials, they released Maro Patarashvili, Demur Chikhladze, Davit Kapanadze, Zviad Kobaladze, Giorgi Elbakidze, Beka Tokadze and Vazha Tokadze, while according to the Georgian side, Tbilisi freed Kazbeg Dzugkoev, Zevinar Kazieva Spartak Driaev, Anatoly Bestaev, Yuri Khachirov, Vitaliy Chociev and Murman Kasaev. The agreement on freeing the detainees was reached on February 17 at a meeting held as part of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism framework.

According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs the sides had each released one detainee earlier. “Those two released earlier separately were freed after their conviction terms expired,” quoted the Head of the Analytical Department of the Interior Ministry, Shota Utiashvili as saying. Tbilisi claims there are still two more Georgians in detention in Tskhinvali, while two South Ossetians and one Russian citizen are being held in Tbilisi.

Meanwhile the de facto Tskhinvali authorities have claimed 28 “South Ossetian citizens” remain in prison in Georgia, noting that 24 of them were detained before the August 2008 war and four after the conflict. Information agency Osinform reported that according to information provided by the de facto Head of the South Ossetian delegation in the Incidents Prevention and Response Mechanism, de facto deputy Special Representative in Post Conflict Regulation Issues Merab Chigoev, 4 Georgian citizens remain in detention in Tskhinvali prison. “South Ossetia will continue its efforts to free all its citizens, detained by Georgia. I hope that we will have an opportunity to see our citizens freed very soon,” stated Chigoev yesterday.

The de facto officials report that Tskhinvali is holding “intense works” in terms of freeing three “South Ossetians” and one Russian detained by Georgian law enforcers on illegal administrative border crossing charges. “We are working on the release of the others also, including Marik Dudaev and three others, who were detained on charges of staging terrorist acts in Gori and sentenced to life imprisonment,” Chigoev said, adding, “We do not believe these citizens perpetrated the crimes the Georgian authorities have accused them of and we will strive for their release.”

The release of the detainees comes a week ahead of the Geneva talks scheduled for March 4.