The body of Archil Tatunashvili will be transferred to his family once forensic examination is over, tentatively in two weeks’ time, Anatoly Bibilov, the Moscow-backed leader of Tskhinvali, told the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID), who visited the Russian-occupied region yesterday to prepare the upcoming round of the GID talks.
Anatoly Bibilov made the statement in response to EUSR Toivo Klaar, who echoed the mounting pressure from the international community, and reiterated their concerns over the death of a thirty-five-year old Georgian citizen, who died in Tskhinvali custody on February 22, and whose body has not been transferred to his family despite Tbilisi’s request and international mediation.
“We are very much concerned about recent events, about the fact that we had the death of an individual here in Tskhinvali, and that this is casting a shadow on the Geneva talks; and we are here in the hope that we can resolve these issues and move forward,” Toivo Klaar told the Tskhinvali leader.
“We understand full well that we need to conduct the forensic examination before we transfer the body - this is how it is done in Europe, and this is how it is done in the United States,” Anatoly Bibilov responded. “I would like to urge you to avoid excessive dramatization and politicization of the situation, and let our experts do their work: the body will be transferred once we have the forensic examination,” he added.
“No one says that the body should not be transferred, although such feelings exist in some part of the [South Ossetian] society,” he added, apparently referring to the March 6 rally in Tskhinvali, which demanded clarity over the fates of the South Ossetians who had gone missing during the armed conflict in early 1990s and the 2008 War.
The Tskhinvali leader touched upon the detention of two other Georgian citizens, who were released from custody after Tatunashvili’s death but deprived of the right to leave the region, with him saying the two were “at home [in Akhalgori],” and that they were “afraid of going to Georgia,” since they thought they would “be used against South Ossetia.”
Speaking after the meeting, EUSR Toivo Klaar said it was “troubling that two weeks after the fatal incident of February 22 no progress has been made on the case.” “There is an obligation to make sure that relatives can bury the deceased person without undue delay. It is also important to ensure that the two released persons can move without restrictions and join their families,” he added.
Anatoly Bibilov’s announcement comes at odds with recent statements in Tbilisi. On March 4, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said it was “reasonable to say” that Tbilisi’s efforts would “yield results,” and the body would be handed over “in the immediate future,” followed by the March 6 statement of the Georgian Patriarchate that the body would be transferred to his family before the end of the week.