On November 5, Russia and the OSCE sponsored a meeting in Sochi between Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and South Ossetian separatist leader Eduard Kokoiti. This was the first meeting between a top Georgian official and Kokoiti since his election as South Ossetian President in 2001. Prior to the talks Zhvania had said, “We do not expect any breakthrough from the meeting.”
The talks produced an agreement that requires the parties to cease hostilities and demilitarize the South Ossetian conflict zone by November 20, specifically by removing all armed groups except for peacekeeping troops. On November 4, Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone reported that Georgia had beefed up its police forces in South Ossetia. More than 100 Georgian policemen had been deployed in various Georgian villages. Meanwhile, the Georgian side claims that North Caucasian mercenaries continue to operate in Tskhinvali. The deployment of extra Georgian troops is likely a result of Tbilisi’s stated intention to protect Georgian-populated villages from possible ethnic cleansing, since Russia-dominated peacekeeping troops frequently provoke violence in the region.
Zhvania and Kokoiti, however, failed to reach agreement about joint control of the Roki tunnel, which is South Ossetia’s sole link with North Ossetia. The tunnel also serves as a way for Russia to channel military aid to the separatist regime. The parties also discussed repatriation of refugees and plans for economic rehabilitation of the region, including resumption of transport links.
After the meeting, RIA-Novosti quoted Kokoiti as saying that the Georgian leaders “acknowledged responsibility for the events of the summer of 2004, and the necessity for the Ossetians to take defensive measures.” The Georgian government has not commented on Kokoiti’s remarks.
Meanwhile tension in the region is heightening. Overnight gunfights have been replaced by kidnappings. Between November 3 and 5, Ossetians kidnapped two Georgian villagers, Eldar Kakhniashvili and Giorgi Maisuradze. On November 4, South Ossetian militia detained around 50 ethnic Georgians heading to the Georgian enclave of Didi Liakhvi via Tskhinvali. In response, ethnic Georgian inhabitants of South Ossetia blocked the road connecting Tskhinvali with the northern town of Java and captured several Ossetians. The South Ossetian side denied accusations of kidnapping and joined the search operation together with Georgian law enforcement. On November 7, Georgian and Ossetian forces exchanged hostages and reopened the roads, but the search for the 21-year Kakhniashvili continues.
Just four days after the November 5 ceasefire and disarmament agreement between Zhvania and Kokoiti, the shelling of Georgian villages resumed. Georgian media reported on November 9 that the village of Tamarasheni has come under fire from Ossetian-controlled territory. In addition, anti-personnel mines have injured a television crew from Rustavi-2 and at least one Georgian villager.
The timing of the latest outbreak of violence in South Ossetia, coming on the heels of the Zhvania-Kokoiti meeting, indicates that certain forces both inside and outside the region seek to maintain tensions there. Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili, known for his hawkish attitude toward the South Ossetian problem, nevertheless stated at a special news conference on November 6 that under no circumstances should Georgia allow itself to react to the provocations “schemed by Georgia’s ill-wishers” who, in his words, are irritated by increasing American military aid to Georgia and strengthened Georgia-NATO links.
(Civil Georgia,vesti.ru, itar-tass.com, November 5; Kommersant.ru, 24 Hours, November 5; TV-Imedi, November 6; Rosbalt, November 6).