Officials Say “Other Reasons” are Behind the Incident
Officials say that the “incident” involving dozens of servicemen who deserted a military base and held a protest rally is “over”; adding, however, that an investigation is in process.
About 60 unarmed servicemen of the Internal Troops deserted their military unit in Mukhrovani, outside Tbilisi, and gathered in front of the Georgian Ombudsman’s office in Tbilisi on December 20 protesting against, as they put it, “terrible conditions” in the army.
“We have nothing - no clothes, no food. We are in terrible conditions,” Levan Chigogidze one of the servicemen said.
Later on December 20, incoming Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said in an interview to the Rustavi 2 television that the “Mukhrovani incident is over at the moment, but an investigation is in process to find out the details of the case.”
“I will meet these soldiers and I will talk tough with them,” Irakli Okruashvili added.
Okruashvili, the former Interior Minister who is set to become the Defense Minister in Georgia’s new cabinet, said that “more ideological work” should be carried out with the soldiers.
“They must understand that they have to tolerate cold winter and any conditions in the army,” he added.
Earlier on December 20 Irakli Okruashvili said that “all of them will be punished,” referring to the protesting servicemen.
The servicemen also demanded re-deployment to military units which are closer to their homes. “They should know that Georgia is their home,” Irakli Okruashvili added.
Currently the servicemen who protested on December 20 are in one of the military units in Tbilisi.
Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania also condemned this fact of desertion.
“In this case each soldier should be punished in accordance with the Georgian Constitution,” Nino Burjanadze told reporters on December 20.
“We understand that the soldiers want to have better conditions. But they have probably forgotten how they lived a year ago,” the Parliamentary Chairperson added.
The Georgian authorities claim that conditions have improved in the army since the new government took over power last November.
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania also said that all of soldiers participating in the protest should be “strictly punished.”
The incoming Defense Minister also said that the military unit in Mukhrovani has just recently been reconstructed and well-equipped. President Saakashvili attended the official opening ceremony for the reconstructed military unit in Mukhrovani this September.
On December 20 Givi Tatukhashvili, Commander of the Internal Troops, even welcomed a group of Georgian reporters at the Mukhrovani military unit to showcase the newly reconstructed base.
“Now you can see with your own eyes that the conditions here are not as terrible as described by those soldiers. The reason for their protest is something different, which will be found out in during the investigation,” Commander of the Internal Troops Givi Tatukhashvili told reporters.
This was the fourth incident of its kind in the Georgian army over the last four years. All of them were socially motivated.
Dozens of ex-servicemen of the National Guard occupied a military base in the capital city Tbilisi last March and demanded an improvement of social conditions for veteran soldiers.
In July, 2002, around 100 elite officers from the Commando battalion and the special unit filed for resignation to the Minister of Defense, protesting against the harsh social conditions and corruption in the Georgian army.
In May, 2001 servicemen from the National Guard who were located in the Mukhrovani military base rebelled and made social demands. This incident was later labeled "the Mukhrovani insurrection."
All the servicemen involved in these incidents were pardoned, except those ex-servicemen from the National Guard who seized the military unit in Tbilisi last March.