A local Georgian citizen was shot dead in the Georgian-controlled village of Khurcha at one of the crossing points between breakaway Abkhazia and rest of Georgia on May 19 by armed men, who reportedly came from the Abkhaz side of the administrative border.
The Georgian PM condemned the fatal shooting as an attempt “to obstruct the ongoing processes” of reconciliation and the Georgian Foreign Ministry said Russia as the “power in effective control” of Abkhazia is responsible. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegation as Tbilisi’s “usual propaganda exercise on the topic of ‘Russian occupation’.”
The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), which has unarmed monitors on the ground without being able to access the breakaway region, said that the fatal shooting occurred at the Khurcha-Nabakevi crossing point.
“According to a preliminary assessment based on local witnesses, armed security actors from the Abkhaz side of the bridge crossed over to Tbilisi Administered Territory and carried out the shooting. EUMM has activated the hotline and is facilitating the exchange of information. We have been informed that the investigation is ongoing on the both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line,” the EUMM said on May 20.
The Georgian State Security Service, which “condemned” the fatal shooting, said that Giga Otkhozoria was shot to death by “four armed persons” at about 2:30pm local time on May 19 in the village of Khurcha. Otkhozoria had several gunshot wounds, including one to the head, according to a doctor in a hospital in nearby town of Zugdidi.
There were conflicting reports in the Georgian media about the circumstances of the fatal shooting; some reports said that Otkhozoria was shot dead by the Abkhaz border guards and in some reports perpetrators were described as Russian border guards. Some relatives of the victim said that the shooting was preceded by a verbal argument between the man and those manning the crossing point.
Chief prosecutor of breakaway Abkhazia, Alexey Lolua, told Russian news agency TASS on May 20 that the incident occurred at the crossing point when two men tried to entered into Abkhazia without having proper documents; he claimed that one of the men “threatened” border guards and engaged in a brawl with them.
The Georgian State Security Service did not identify “four armed persons” either as Abkhaz or Russian security forces and declined to comment beyond its brief written statement.
Although the Georgian Foreign Ministry did not say in its statement that the Russian border guards were involved in the shooting, it said that the responsibility for fatal shooting lies upon the Russian side because it is “in effective control of the region.”
“This criminal act once again demonstrates the highly alarming situation in the occupied region of Abkhazia, Georgia and the full responsibility for it lies with the Russian Federation as with the power in effective control of the region,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
“The abovementioned criminal act reaffirms the need of establishing international security mechanisms in the occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region,” it added. “The Georgian side will apply all existing international mechanisms to ensure both political and legal response and to bring those responsible for the crime to justice.”
Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Dondua said he spoke by the phone with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin on May 19 over the issue; both are negotiators in the Geneva talks, which were launched after the August, 2008 war.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on May 20: “The murder in Khurcha means that one more person has fallen victim to occupation.”
In a statement on May 20 the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russian forces had nothing to do with this incident.
“The Georgian MFA used this case for its usual propaganda exercise on the topic of ‘Russian occupation’ even though the Georgian side knew very well that neither border guard troops nor any other Russian representative had anything to do with this incident,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, adding that the fatal shooting is a source of “sincere regret.”
“Instead of political speculation over tragic death of a person, we recommend the Georgian side to focus on restoration of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism in the area of the Georgian-Abkhaz border in the town of Gali,” it said, adding that “anti-Russian attacks” of Tbilisi do not contribute to restoration of this mechanism, restart of which was agreed at the recent round of the Geneva talks in March.
PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili told journalists on May 20: “It is an appalling fact, a huge tragedy that a person was killed mercilessly on the territory controlled by the Georgian side. It is even a greater tragedy as it is an attempt to obstruct the ongoing processes [of reconciliation] – we are taking certain steps to restore trust between Georgians and Abkhazians, Georgians and Ossetians.”
“I believe that the perpetrator will be punished very strictly. We will involve all our international partners in this case and we will definitely bring it to the end to ensure that the person who committed this terrible crime does not remain unpunished: the PM said.
“I express hope that Abkhazians will view this case as a direct provocation against the processes [of reconciliation]. Although we don’t have a great progress from political point of view, but we do have some progress in people-to-people relations and there is a certain warming; I wish that this progress to continue and that’s why it is extremely important to punish the perpetrators very strictly” he added.
The Georgian State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality said in a statement on May 20, that the fatal shooting “is a serious challenge to peaceful policy the Georgian government has been pursuing over the past four years.”
“Such cases have to be unequivocally condemned by all the parties. We do hope that power exercising effective control on the territory of Abkhazia will have a serious reaction to this case in order to eradicate re-occurrence of similar cases in the future, which undermine Georgian-Abkhaz peaceful political process,” it said.
The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) has urged for a prompt and thorough investigation of the case and also called “on all sides to refrain from any actions that could potentially escalate the situation.”
“The incident as such provides additional urgency for the swift resumption of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism in Gali,” EUMM said.
A small group of protesters gathered on May 20 outside the government headquarters in Tbilisi criticizing Georgian authorities’ reaction to the fatal shooting, specifically the State Security Service’s statement, and saying that instead of making statements of condemnation the agency should be providing security on its controlled territory. Similar criticism was voiced at a separate protest rally, which was held on the same day by activists from the UNM opposition party outside the State Security Service.