South Ossetians Now Need KGB Permit to Visit Friends, Family Near Georgian-Controlled Territory
Off-limits for Georgians, the separatist side of breakaway South Ossetia’s boundary with Georgian-controlled territory will now become partly restricted for South Ossetians, too, leaving little opportunity for civilian contact across the Russian-policed line of conflict.
South Ossetians will need a permit from the KGB, as the separatist region’s security services are still called, to visit villages along the boundary, the de-facto body announced on February 15. South Ossetians living in these villages reportedly are worried that they will eventually face eviction. Their ethnic Georgian population was evicted en masse during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia over the territory.
The South Ossetian KGB and Russia’s FSB, which handles keeping a watch on the contact line with Georgian-controlled territory, assured local villagers, however, that no evictions plans are in the can and that the travel restrictions will not extend to residents themselves
“Before visiting you, your guests, be it friends or relatives, will need to go to the KGB’s border service, which will be issuing the permits,” said South Ossetian KGB official Soslan Tigiyev, reported a local outlet of the Russian-government-owned Sputnik news network. Locals objected to the travel restrictions.
Separatist officials also said that South Ossetian and Russian border guards must be notified of weddings or funerals – usually large-scale events in the South Caucasus -- to lift the restrictions temporarily. Friends and relatives residing on the Georgian-controlled side of the conflict line are altogether barred from attending social functions in the breakaway region.
Until recently, South Ossetians could request their KGB to allow a maximum of 10 people to come through the separatist boundary for one day to attend a funeral, Georgian rights activist Tamara Meapakishvili told Ekho Kavkaza. Meapakishvili said that failing to bring together friends and families for functions on the South Ossetian-controlled side, the region’s residents sometimes take funerals or weddings to the Georgian-controlled side.
The debate over the restrictions illustrates the sensitivity of the conflict into which the International Criminal Court has started to wade. The Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the 2008 war that resulted in the uprooting of most of South Ossetia’s ethnic Georgian population and left the region at its current juncture.
South Ossetia’s de-facto authorities have taken issue with the probe, but Tbilisi has promised to cooperate. Some ICC factfinders are currently in the Georgian capital for meetings with officials and rule-of-law activists about the Georgian government’s actions during the 2008 war. “We will make sure… that they have access to evidence,” said Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, Rustavi2 reported.
The Georgian side, however, complained that the ICC investigation is not looking into measures taken by Moscow, which ultimately decided the outcome of the conflict. After initially agreeing to work with investigators, Russia changed tact earlier this month, after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that the Court has evidence of attacks on Georgian as well as Russian peacekeepers, DFW noted.