A group of unarmed civilian monitors from the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) was briefly detained by armed South Ossetian Security forces, the organisation reported on Thursday.
According to the EUMM, the monitors were detained while conducting a patrol in Georgian-controlled territory near the villages of Chorchana and Tsnelisi (Uista).
Following the incident, the organisation expressed ‘deep concerns’ that armed security actors prevent their monitors from conducting their daily activities in accordance with their mandate.
Tensions mounted near the village of Tsnelisi in August after Georgian police set up a new police checkpoint in the area in response to the erection by Russian troops of new fences along the disputed South Ossetian border.
Tsnelisi is almost entirely controlled by South Ossetian forces and is separated from the Georgian government-controlled village of Chorchana by a forested buffer zone.
The EUMM’s 24 October statement said that ‘the Mission is still looking into the details concerning the incident, which happened in an area understood to be on Tbilisi-Administered Territory in accordance with the traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line in that area’.
They said the incident would be discussed during the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting in Ergneti on Friday.
The EUMM declined to comment further.
Tensions rise near Chorchana and Tsnelisi
Tensions around the Georgian-controlled village of Chorchana, which is home to 16 families, have increased over the past year.
In the summer of 2018, South Ossetia’s parliament formed a commission to examine the ‘incorrectly’ demarcated border in the area. They claimed a part of the Tsnelisi Gorge currently under Georgian government control belonged to South Ossetia. The area includes talc deposits.
In January, Georgian vigilante group Power in Unity, which carries out patrols of the South Ossetian border, claimed that the ‘occupation forces of Russia’ had restricted Georgians from using the forest near Chorchana and had started preparations to erect fences there.
In March, residents of Chorchana complained that their agricultural lands were being divided by an ‘occupation line’, while also protesting the absence of a school, kindergarten, and a hospital in the village.
On 29 August, after Georgia set up a police checkpoint in the area, South Ossetia demanded the checkpoint be taken down by 6:00 the following day. The Georgian government did not acquiesce to the request.
On 30 August, South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov announced the construction of their own checkpoint in Tsnelisi in response.
Following Bibilov’s statement, the South Ossetian security service, the KGB, announced they had launched ‘a humanitarian operation’ in Tsnelisi ‘to ensure the security of citizens of the republic and maintain the stability of the military and political situation in the region’.
In September, Power in Unity claimed responsibility for bringing down an unarmed South Ossetian drone near Tsnelisi. South Ossetian authorities reacted angrily to the downing, accusing the Georgian police of shooting down the drone themselves.
Georgia’s SSG claimed the drone was taken down by a drone operated by Georgian activists.
Davit Katsarava, the leader of Power in Unity, confirmed that they ‘neutralised’ the South Ossetian drone with a drone of their own.
[Read on OC Media: Georgian vigilante group ‘downs South Ossetian drone’]
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.