Abkhaz Border Guards Shoot and Kill Georgian Citizen

GALI, Georgia - A 31 year-old Georgian man was shot and killed Thursday by Abkhaz border guards near the Khurcha-Nabakevi crossing point near the contact line separating the Russian-backed breakaway region from the rest of Georgia.

Citing local witnesses, the European Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia confirmed that separatist border guards from the Abkhaz side crossed over a bridge to Tbilisi Administered Territory to shoot and kill the victim, who was later identified as Giga Otkhozoria.

“The EUMM condemns this fatality. Our condolences and sympathies are with the deceased’s family. The EUMM is monitoring the situation and collecting information to provide to other European Institutions and EU Member States. The mission will remain on the ground for as long as needed,” the EUMM’s official statement said.

According Georgia’s State Security Service, on May 19 at 2:30pm by local time, four armed men crossed the administrative contact line shot and fatally wounded Otkhozoria.

According to a statement released by the State Security Service, Otkhozoria - a resident of Bargebi in Georgia’s Gali district - was taken to a hospital in nearby Zugdidi, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

On Friday, Georgian TV Company Rustavi 2 released video footage taken by security surveillance camera installed at a checkpoint closest to where the accident took place.

The video showed Abkhaz troops crossing the line into Georgian-controlled territory. They then beat Otkhozoria before shooting him six times. A CCTV camera recorded the last fatal shot to the head.

The killers are then seen leaving and returning to their guard posts on the Abkhaz side.

A day later after the accident, Abkhazia’s de-facto Prosecutor General released a statement saying a criminal investigation looking into Otkhzoria’s death would soon be launched.

The rebel government in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi claimed that two men tried to cross into Abkhazia without proper identification. After being warned several times by the guards, one of the men threatened the guards with physical violence.

Alexey Lomaia, the separatist prosecutor general, told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that the investigators must determine what transpired and if the border guards complied with military regulations.

Georgian authorities quickly condemned the killing, with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili calling the incident a “heinous crime”.

“They (the pro-Russian Abkhaz) are trying to impede the ongoing reconciliation process at a time when we are taking steps to restore confidence between Georgians and Abkhaz, as well as Georgians and Ossetians. I express my hope that those involved will be very severely punished. Our international partners will be involved in the investigative process so that none of the perpetrators go unpunished," Kvirikashvili said.

Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the incident demonstrates just how tense the situation is along the contact line that separates Georgian troops from their Russian and Abkhaz counterparts. The ministry also said Moscow must take full responsibility for the killing of Otkhzoria, because Russia backs the separatists.

“This type of criminal act reaffirms the need to establish international security mechanisms in the occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia). The Georgian side will apply all existing international mechanisms to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” MFA statement reads.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry angrily rejected Georgia’s view of the incident, saying Tbilisi was using the Otkhzoria’s death as a means to stir up anti-Russian sentiment in Georgia.

“The Georgian authorities know full well that neither the border guards in question, nor any other Russian representatives, have a connection to this genuinely regrettable incident,” the Russian foreign ministry’s statement reads.

Russia also recommended that Georgia concentrate on reviving a joint mechanism to prevent further incidents on the Georgian-Abkhaz border.

“Agreements in this area were reached through the Abkhaz side’s goodwill and constructive attitude at the latest round of talks in Geneva in March. The Georgian authorities’ anti-Russian attacks, like their recent hostile moves against the Republic of Abkhazia, clearly do not contribute to the work that needs to be done,” the Russians’ statement reads.

On Friday, a small group gathered outside a government building to protest the Georgian government’s lack of response to the incident and inability to provide proper security to those living near the contact lines on the Abkhaz and Ossetian borders.

The UNM opposition party held a similar protest rally outside the State Security Service.

By Tamar Svanidze
Edited by Nicholas Waller

21 May 2016 09:25