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Arms Seizure Flares Tensions in South Ossetia, Causes Controversy in Georgian Cabinet
/ 7 Jul.'04 / 14:47
Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia

Tensions grew in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia after Georgian internal troops detained a convoy of trucks, loaded with arms, ammunition and uniforms, that was being brought into the region by Russian peacekeepers. Russia has already condemned the move as “a provocation.”

The incident may also lead to a rift in the Georgian government, as the Georgian Security Ministry, which is investigating the case, intends to interrogate several officials in the cabinet over the recent arms movement in South Ossetia.

In the early hours of July 7, Georgian peacekeepers deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone seized nine trucks belonging to Russian peacekeepers that were loaded with arms, ammunition and uniforms. According to the Georgian side, the convoy of trucks, carrying “unauthorized weapon,” came from Russia and were en route to Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway South Ossetian republic.

“We have no problem with the uniforms and we will return them to the peacekeepers, but the arms will be confiscated,” Georgian Security Minister Vano Merabishvili, who arrived in the conflict zone shortly after the incident, told reporters.

Eventually, only two trucks, which were loaded with arms, were brought to Tbilisi by the Georgian side, other trucks with uniforms were returned to the Russian peacekeepers.

As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 7, the movement of arms was agreed upon by Georgian side in frames of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC). The JCC, involving Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and North Ossetian side is a major body that facilitates the political resolution of the conflict.

“This is not the first time that agreements have been violated by the Georgian side,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

The Russian Defense Ministry further explained the details of the agreement and reported on July 7 that the ammunition and arms were intended to supply the Russian Peacekeeping Troops’ helicopter command center in the conflict zone. Creation of this center was agreed upon during the June 2 session of the JCC, according to the Commander of the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia Sviatoslav Nabdzorov.

Following the reports over the existence of an agreement to create a helicopter command center, Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili said that the several members of the Georgian cabinet will be interrogated, as they allegedly were informed regarding the planned movement of arms.

“Those who are in charge of holding talks in frames of the Joint Control Commission will have to answer questions put to them by investigators,” Irakli Okruashvili said; however, he did not specifically name any particular officials.

However, no one doubts that Okruashvili’s statement directly concerns to Georgian State Minister in charge of conflict resolution issues Goga Khaindrava, as he represents the Georgian side at the Joint Control Commission.

But Khaindrava has already denied any links to the recent arms movement and said that the agreement over the creation of the Russian helicopter command center in South Ossetia was reached by the JCC back in 1996 and not last month as reported by the Russian side.

“The Interior Minister should know the facts before making these kinds of statements. The agreement over the deployment of the Russia’s two helicopters and ammunition into the conflict zone was reached by the JCC back in 1996. Therefore, I have nothing in common with this agreement,” Khaindrava told reporters after a cabinet meeting on July 7.

Irakli Okruashvili also told reporters that the Russian side had also planned a deployment of helicopters but abandoned the plan after the seizure of the arms by the Georgian troops. It was also reported that several hundreds of unguided missiles, commonly used by helicopter gunships, were found among the weapons transported by the Russian peacekeepers’ trucks on July 7. 

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