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Two detained in South Ossetia allowed to return to Tbilisi-controlled territory

12 March 2018
The pair talk with Georgian officials after being allowed to leave South Ossetia (Georgia’s State Ministry of Reconciliation)

Two Georgian citizens being held in South Ossetia have been allowed to return to Tbilisi-controlled territory. Levan Kutashvili and Ioseb Pavliashvili were detained along with former Georgian soldier Archil Tatunashvili, who died in custody in Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) ‘in unclear circumstances’. South Ossetian authorities have refused to release Tatunashvili’s body.

The pair were detained in Akhalgori (Leningor) on 22 February, and despite being released from custody soon after, were ordered to remain in South Ossetia until the investigation into Tatunashvili’s death was complete.

According to a statement from Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, Georgia’s Minister for Reconciliation, upon their return, Kutashvili and Pavliashvili met with the minister for Reconciliation, Minister of IDPs and Refugees Sozar Subari, and officials from the Interior Ministry and State Security Service.

‘We are still waiting for Archil Tatunashvili’s body to be handed over, and hope that this will soon happen’, Tsikhelashvili said. Subari said they are working so that this will happen ‘soon’.

Deputy Interior Minister Kakha Sabanadze said neither had any ‘signs of physical violence or torture’.

Tatunashvili was arrested on 22 February in Akhalgori, and died in Tskhinvali later that night. 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: South Ossetia links dead Georgian citizen to ‘home-made bomb’]

Despite calls from the EU, NATO, the US, and UK, South Ossetian authorities have repeatedly refused to hand over Tatunashvili’s body until a forensic examination is complete. They say tissue samples have been sent to Moscow for analysis, and that the body remains in Tskhinvali.

Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili appealed to Russian authorities last week, calling for ‘joint steps to resolve the difficult situation’, adding he was ready for a ‘direct dialogue with Abkhazians and Ossetians’. The statement sparked backlash from the opposition, with Giorgi Kandelaki from European Georgia claiming Kvirikashvili’s appeal is ‘alarming’ and ‘discards the notion of occupation’.

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.