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Monday, January 8
Release of Georgian Prisoner Sparks Protest in Sokhumi

Pardoning and the subsequent release of Giorgi Lukava from Abkhazia’s Dranda prison has stirred public protest in the region with members of the Sokhumi legislature convening an emergency session yesterday amidst the heavy opposition criticism.

51-year-old Lukava, native of Abkhazia’s easternmost Gali district, was arrested by Sokhumi authorities in 2012, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2013 (the penalty was reduced to 16 years in accordance with the region’s law on prison terms).

Sokhumi authorities claimed Giorgi Lukava committed a number of offences in 1994. Accusations include acts of murder and kidnapping of Abkhaz officials while allegedly being a member of the Forest Brothers, an armed group consisting of residents of the predominantly ethnic Georgian-populated Gali district (the group ceased to exist in 2004). Lukava, however, denies the accusations.

Lukava’s release from custody was first announced by the State Security Service of Georgia, saying in its brief statement on December 25 that the prisoner was released “as a result of months-long negotiations,” and that “the decision of the de facto [Abkhaz] authorities was a positive step” which would add productive dynamics to the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meetings.

Lukava’s release was, however, strongly condemned by opposition groups in Sokhumi, with Amtsakhara, Kyarazaa and Ainar parties slamming Raul Khajimba, the Moscow-backed leader of the region, for pardoning “the terrorist” . They called the decision “a betrayal” and “a blasphemy” over the memory of those “who died for freedom of Abkhazia.”

The Abkhaz security service commented on the discussion on December 29, saying Lukava’s release was a part of the tripartite prisoner exchange process, which was initiated “in response to the request of the authorities of the Republic of South Ossetia, the active phase that took place in March 2016.”The security service clarified that Lukava “was in the list” as well, but noted that the process did not finish for several reasons.“Subsequently, when these reasons expired, Lukava was handed over to the Georgian authorities”, reads the statement.

The response failed to address the opposition concerns, with the main opposition Amtsakhara party (a political movement uniting veterans of the 1992-93 war which supported ex-Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab) calling a political council meeting on January 2, and also announcing a rally in front of the region’s “presidential administration” on January 3.

The announcement prompted the region’s leader Raul Khajimba to issue his clarifications on the matter. The “president’s” press office stressed in its late-night statement on January 3 that Lukava was transferred to Tbilisi “as part of the prison exchange process initiated by the authorities of the Republic of South Ossetia,” and called on the public to “demonstrate patience and refrain from following provocative appeals.”

Khajimba reiterated that Lukava was “in the list of those who were to be exchanged, but his transfer was stopped at that moment.” He then noted that Giorgi Lukava and Giorgi Giunashvili (an ethnic Georgian who was serving a 20-year prison term in Tskhinvali) were released “in exchange for Roland Zhiba, who was hiding in Georgia and who is suspected in the murder of B. Kvitsinia (Sokhumi authorities had previously claimed Zhiba was arrested on May 5, 2017).”

Ukraine detains ship carrying cigarettes from Abkhazia

On December 31, Ukrainian border guards fired warning shots at a ship off the coast of Odessa and took it into custody.

The ship that was flying a Tanzanian flag ,was found to be carrying counterfeit cigarettes to Bulgaria via Abkhazia.

According to the Ukrainian media, the border guards noticed the vessel in the vicinity of Kurortnoe settlement, in Odessa Oblast. Later on, it turned out that the vessel set out from Ochamchire port in the breakaway region Abkhazia and was heading to Varna, Bulgaria.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) decided to carry out a check of the vessel and deployed Pryluky, a Matka class hydrofoil missile boat of the Ukrainian Navy.

The suspect vessel attempted to disobey orders, but after artillery was used to fire warning shots, it stopped and a special unit of the SBU conducted a search on board, turning up 1,740 boxes of cigarettes.

The cargo was accompanied by the document ,issued by authorities in breakaway Abkhazia which is not recognized by Ukraine as a legitimate entity. Hence, the cigarettes were assumed to be counterfeit. Eventually the vessel was arrested and convoyed to the Odessa port.
(DF watch)