09TBILISI1409, GEORGIA: INCIDENTS RAISE CONCERNS, MECHANISMS MEET

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1409 2009-07-31 14:51 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1341
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1409/01 2121451
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 311451Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1978
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0264
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4884

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001409 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/31/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: INCIDENTS RAISE CONCERNS, MECHANISMS MEET 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 1312 
     B. TBILISI 1358 
     C. GENEVA0592 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary and comment.  Deputy Foreign Minister 
Nalbandov told the Ambassador the government is concerned 
about a spate of recent incidents, especially as the August 7 
first anniversary of Georgia's 2008 war with Russia 
approaches.  An explosive device killed the father of a 
family of IDPs that had just visited their abandoned home in 
Akhalgori July 30; shooting erupted near the South Ossetian 
administrative boundary line July 29; six mysterious 
explosions occurred in Pakhulani outside Abkhazia July 27, 
with no obvious target; a South Ossetian man was detained 
July 22 or 23 and remains in Georgian custody; and a Georgian 
man was detained in South Ossetia July 25, then released July 
27.  None of these incidents led to escalation, but the EUMM 
called an urgent Joint Incident Prevention and Response 
Mechanism (JIPRM) meeting for South Ossetia on July 31; the 
South Ossetians attended, but the Russians did not.  The 
Abkhazia JIPRM met for the second time on July 28 and had a 
substantive and respectful (although not necessarily 
productive) discussion, and the biweekly meetings will 
continue.  The sudden uptick in incidents is troubling. 
Although the JIPRMs show potential as a useful forum to 
reduce tension, all observers will need to remain watchful as 
August 7 approaches.  End summary and comment. 
 
RECENT INCIDENTS 
 
2. (SBU) In a briefing for the diplomatic corps July 31, 
Acting Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandov provided the 
following information.  On July 30, a family of internally 
displaced persons (IDPs) from Akhalgori traveled from their 
settlement in Tserovani, in Georgia-controlled territory, to 
visit their home in Akhalgori.  On the return trip, after 
crossing the South Ossetian administrative boundary back into 
undisputed Georgian territory, the car stopped in Dusheti. 
As they exited the car, an explosive device inside the car 
went off, killing the 59-year-old father.  A Ministry of 
Internal Affairs (MoIA) official expressed the belief that 
the device was placed in the car while it was in Akhalgori, 
although he did not know who placed it; he said an 
investigation was underway.  Nalbandov also informed the 
group that an unexploded bomb was found near the Zugdidi 
police station on the same day.  An EUMM military advisor 
later told PolOff that the bomb consisted of plastic 
explosives with a detonator, and that it had been found by 
local police, who showed photos of the device to EUMM 
personnel. 
 
3. (SBU) Nalbandov expressed serious concern to the gathered 
diplomats about the shooting that occurred the evening of 
July 29 near Zemo Nikozi and Zemo Khviti, just south of the 
South Ossetian administrative boundary.  He said that machine 
guns, mortars, and other firearms had been fired at the 
villages, although no one was injured.  Georgian officials 
tried to use the "hotline" recently established in 
conjunction with the JIPRM for South Ossetia to contact 
Russian officials, who did not respond.  South Ossetian de 
facto authorities released on the internet allegations that 
the July 29 shooting originated in Georgian-controlled 
territory and targeted Tskhinvali.  EUMM officials told 
diplomatic colleagues in a July 30 briefing that they had 
confirmed the shooting from South Ossetia into undisputed 
Qconfirmed the shooting from South Ossetia into undisputed 
Georgia with local villagers, but could not confirm the South 
Ossetian allegations. 
 
4. (SBU) At the EUMM briefing, officials provided information 
about six explosions in Pakhulani, just outside Abkhazia, on 
July 27; no one was injured.  EUMM monitors observed six 
craters of considerable size -- five meters across and two 
meters deep -- but have been unable to determine what caused 
them, and they have also been unable to identify a clear 
target.  One EUMM official speculated that the incident 
somehow derived from criminal groups growing frustrated with 
the increasingly strict control of movements across the 
administrative boundary imposed by Russian Border Guards. 
 
5. (SBU) EUMM officials also noted two recent detentions 
around South Ossetia.  According to Georgian sources, on July 
22 an armed South Ossetian militia member was detained by 
Georgian authorities in Kere, outside South Ossetia; 
according to the South Ossetian version of events, a South 
Ossetian was detained on July 23 in Ortevi, inside South 
Ossetia (both villages are on the administrative boundary, 
east of Tskhinvali).  He remains in Georgian custody.  The 
 
TBILISI 00001409  002 OF 003 
 
 
second detention occurred on July 25, when a Georgian man was 
de
tained in Muguti (just inside the boundary, southwest of 
Tskhinvali); he was released back into undisputed Georgian 
territory at Ergneti on July 27.  He made no complaints of 
mistreatment while in South Ossetian custody. 
 
6. (C) At the briefing for the diplomatic corps, Nalbandov 
asked everyone to ask their governments to encourage Russia 
to comply with its international commitments in an effort to 
restore a stable environment, especially in the lead up to 
the war's anniversary.  Afterwards, Nalbandov asked to see 
the Ambassador privately.  He conveyed his own and the 
Foreign Minister's concern that these recent incidents 
represent a significant increase in tension.  He noted with 
surprise and concern that they occurred directly following 
Vice President Biden's visit to Georgia, 
 
ABKHAZIA MECHANISM MEETS 
 
7. (SBU) In accordance with the biweekly schedule agreed at 
the first JIPRM meeting (ref A), representatives of the UN, 
EUMM, Russia, Georgia, and the Abkhaz de facto authorities 
gathered in Gali on July 28.  The Georgian government 
originally wanted to send ten representatives, but after an 
intervention by the EUMM, they agreed to limit their 
delegation to four individuals (the same size as the other 
delegations).  EUMM officials reported the meeting, chaired 
by UN Special Representative Johan Verbeke, proceeded in a 
positive, polite and diplomatic spirit, and all sides agreed 
to continue with a regular schedule of biweekly meetings, 
with the next planned for August 11.  The Georgian side 
raised the question of the location of the meetings, 
proposing that they alternate between Gali and Zugdidi (the 
first two have been held in Gali).  Abkhaz de facto "deputy 
foreign minister" Maxim Gundjia did not object in principle 
to alternating locations, but he asked that the venue remain 
Gali through the Abkhaz "presidential" elections in December, 
explaining that sending representatives outside Abkhazia 
would be very sensitive in this campaign period.  The 
Georgians agreed to continue meeting in Gali for now. 
 
8. (SBU) Although the group did not make any concrete 
progress on specific issues, they did engage in a substantive 
exchange, in particular on the state of the Abkhaz 
administrative boundary crossing regime.  The Russian and 
Abkhaz participants explained that currently there was only 
one crossing point they considered legal: the Rukhi Bridge, 
near Zugdidi.  (Although other points are still being used, 
Abkhaz de facto authorities officially consider them 
illegal.)  They also explained, however, that they were 
considering opening as many as five other points to 
pedestrian traffic; the Rukhi Bridge would remain the only 
"legal" crossing for goods and vehicles.  At the same time, 
the Russian representatives admitted that it would probably 
take some time -- perhaps two to three months -- to establish 
a consistent enforcement regime. 
 
9. (SBU) The Russian and Abkhaz participants explained their 
approach to the documents required for crossing.  Gali 
residents would be allowed to cross by showing either a 
Soviet-era passport or an Abkhaz "passport."  Residents of 
other areas of Abkhazia, however, would need to receive 
special permission from the de facto authorities to cross, 
and they would only receive that permission by having a 
specific need for the travel.  Likewise, travelers from 
Qspecific need for the travel.  Likewise, travelers from 
outside Abkhazia would be allowed to enter Gali by showing 
one of the same two documents, but anyone interested in 
traveling beyond Gali would need to receive permission to do 
so.  The Russian representatives explained the July 22 
incident, in which a bus and a minibus were stopped (ref B), 
as an enforcement action in line with these requirements. 
They insisted that the incident did not constitute the 
detention of the travelers, but rather an administrative 
action akin to a traffic stop, in which a police officer 
might check a driver's documents.  They did not provide 
information on the fate of those detained on July 22 who 
reportedly lost their Georgian passports, however.  Anyone 
attempting to cross with improper documentation would be 
given a warning on the first "offense," then a fine on the 
second. 
 
10. (C) The Abkhaz participants also raised the February 2007 
disappearance of David Sigua, an ethnic Georgian who worked 
on elections in Gali whom the de facto authorities believe 
Georgian authorities abducted.  They expressed interest in 
reopening the case and asking the UN and EUMM to get 
involved.  The EUMM representatives indicated they had no 
authority to conduct investigations, and that in any case 
they currently have no access to the Abkhaz side.  The EUMM 
 
TBILISI 00001409  003 OF 003 
 
 
Deputy Head of Mission, Gilles Janvier, suggested that the 
Abkhaz are trying to use this case to build some kind of 
public relations campaign, like the South Ossetians have done 
with the three disappearances from October 2008, but in a 
less confrontational manner. 
 
SOUTH OSSETIA MECHANISM MEETS 
 
11. (SBU) In response to some of the above incidents, on July 
30 the EUMM sought to arrange an urgent meeting of the JIPRM 
for South Ossetia.  As noted in ref C, the South Ossetian de 
facto authorities have indicated they will only participate 
in further meetings of the JIPRM once the October 2008 
disappearances have been resolved, but they did agree to meet 
on July 31 in Ergneti.  Although the Russians agreed to meet 
as well, they did not appear for the meeting. 
 
ANNIVERSARY PROVOCATIONS? 
 
12. (C) At the EUMM briefing, Janvier reported that the 
Ganmukhuri Patriots Camp, located just outside the Abkhaz 
boundary but north of the Enguri River, had been restored in 
recent weeks after being burned to the ground during the war 
and would reportedly reopen on August 7 (the anniversary of 
the beginning of the war).  He added that the EUMM understood 
there was a possibility that President Saakashvili would 
attend the reopening.  British Ambassador Denis Keefe noted 
that Ganmukhuri has been the site of several unfortunate 
incidents and suggested that any event there on August 7, 
particularly involving Saakashvili, could be perceived by the 
Russians and Abkhaz as provocative.  At the Nalbandov 
briefing, German Ambassador Patricia Flor asked Nalbandov 
about this report, and he had no information about it. 
 
COMMENT: ALL EYES ON THE BOUNDARIES 
 
13. (C) Coming after several weeks of relative calm, the 
sudden rash of incidents, including one fatality, is indeed 
troubling.  Many observers have wondered about the 
possibility of one of the parties seeking to use the occasion 
of the upcoming anniversary to provoke a new round of 
incidents, and such strange incidents as the explosions in 
Pakhulni, or the targeting of a family of IDPs, could be 
designed solely to create a tense atmosphere.
 If true, the 
reopening of the Ganmukhuri camp on August 7, especially if 
it involves Saakashvili, could also come across as 
provocative.  The fact that the JIPRMs are operating, if not 
completely smoothly, is encouraging, because they may provide 
a useful vehicle for addressing any additional incidents. 
TEFFT

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