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South Ossetia hands over body of Georgian citizen 26 days after his death in custody

21 March 2018
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) transferred the remains of Archil Tatunashvili. Ergneti, 20.03.2018 (Radio Tavisupleba)

South Ossetia has handed over the body of Archil Tatunashvili, a former Georgian soldier who died in prison in South Ossetia ‘in unclear circumstances’, to the Georgian authorities, 26 days after his death.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which acts as a neutral intermediary, transferred the mortal remains of Tatunashvili on Tuesday night.

The body has already been handed over to Tatunashvili’s family, after a forensic examination in the National Forensics Bureau in Tbilisi.

Georgia’s State Minister for Reconciliation Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said that ‘although the forensic examination was conducted, it has not been yet been completed’. According to her, more time is required ‘to get qualified results’.

Tsikhelashvili and other officials have refused to say whether there were signs of violence on Tatunashvili’s body.

Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has launched an investigation into Tatunashvili’s death.

South Ossetian authorities had repeatedly refused to release Tatunashvili’s body ‘until a forensic examination was complete’. They said that tissue samples had been sent to Moscow for analysis, while the body remained in Tskhinvali.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) welcomed the handover of Tatunashvili’s body and promised to ‘follow developments closely’ in its monitoring capacity and in line with its Mandate.

Tatunashvili, 35, was detained in Akhalgori (Leningor) on 22 February, along with two other Georgian citizens, Levan Kutashvili and Ioseb Pavliashvili. The latter two were released from custody soon after but were ordered to remain in South Ossetia until the investigation into Tatunashvili’s death was complete. They were released to Tbilisi-administered territory on 11 March.

Tatunashvili died in Tskhinvali later the night of his detention. According to the South Ossetian security services, he died after falling from the stairs while trying to escape. They also accused him of being a Georgian informant, and ‘participating in Georgian aggression in 2004–2008’. They later linked him to a homemade bomb they say they found in Akhalgori.

[Read on OC Media: Georgian citizen dies in custody in South Ossetia   |   South Ossetia links dead Georgian citizen to ‘home-made bomb’]

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.