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What happened in Lapankuri?

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, May 2
Public Defender of Georgia, Ucha Nanuahsvili, states that the armed individuals who were killed during the Lapankuri special operation were trained and equipped by the members of the Georgian Interior Ministry. Nanuahsvili spoke on the issue at the parliament on April 30. His claim interpreted as anti-state by former members of government, when the current leadership speaks on the necessity of a real investigation regarding the case.

On August 29, 2012 the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) stated that it was carrying out an anti-terrorist operation against an armed group close to Lapankuri village in the Lopota gorge, not far from the Dagestan section of the Georgian-Russian border. Later on the same day, it announced that eleven armed individuals and three Georgian special service personnel were killed in a clash that was preceded by a hostage-taking incident.

After the initial denials, the Interior Ministry confirmed on September 2 that among the gunmen killed in the clash, two were Georgian citizens.

According to the Public Defender, his findings were based on information gathered from “confidential sources” and relatives of some of those men killed during the clash.

Nanuashvili claims that in February 2012, senior officials from the Georgian Interior Ministry contacted some of the “veterans of the Chechen war”, as well as representatives of the Chechen community currently living in Europe with the purpose of convincing them that the Georgian authorities were ready to provide armed militants a so-called "corridor”– a free passage for infiltrating Russia’s North Caucasus via Georgia.

The Public Defender states that after the “invitation” about 120 Chechens and other natives of the North Caucasus arrived in Georgia. “Flats were rented for them in Tbilisi districts,” the report reads, adding that the Interior Ministry provided them with firearms and driving licenses.

“The Public Defender’s Office has a gun registration certificate issued on July 23, 2012 by the Interior Ministry to Aslan Margoshvili, one of the gunmen killed in the Lopota clash,” Nanuahsvili states.

The report reads that militants were undergoing training outside Tbilisi at the Vaziani and Shavnabada bases. The ombudsman stresses that the members of the Georgian Special Forces killed at Lapankuri (Archil Chokeli and Solomon Tsiklauri), were providing training to the group.

Nanauahsvili states that the training courses lasted too long and this dissatisfied the militants. The militants demanded that the Georgians keep their promise. However, the Interior Ministry refused and asked them to surrender their weapons. They refused and the Georgian side used force against them.

“According to the father of Aslan Margoshvili, one of the militant killed in the clash, his son was trained at the Shavnabada base and among his instructors were Chokheli and Tsiklauri,” Nanuashvili states.

The public defender stressed that the nine surviving militants left Georgia with the help of the Georgian interior ministry representatives and went to Turkey via the Vale border crossing point. Nanauashvili stated that these individuals currently reside in Syria.

United National Movement representative, Giga Bokeria, states that Nanuashvili’s report coincides with the Russian version of the incident and lacks argumentation.

“In some cases, the arguments are comedic and are based on some abstract narration. Nanuashvili cannot provide real arguments that the Georgian side was training the group because it never happened,” Bokeria said, adding that the Georgian side did its best to stop the armed group wishing to go to Russia.

The parliamentary majority states that the Lapankuri special operation includes many questions that need to be investigated. Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, stated that the government should respect and have an adequate reaction to the public defender’s report.

Human Rights’ defender, Lia Mukhashavria, highlited that the ombudsman’s report is professionally composed and Nanuahsvili spoke on the issues that might not be raised by his predecessors.

“Statements of the former government members are inadequate. First of all, an effective investigation should be carried out and the investigation will reveal whether the ombudsman’s statements are baseless or not,” Mukhashavria stated.