Burnt out buses in the village of Khurcha. Photo: Batumelebi newspaper
An investigative documentary produced by the Reporter studio has claimed that a shootout and rocket attack on two buses in the Abkhaz conflict zone on election day, May 21, was pre-arranged and has indicated that it was staged by the Georgian side.
Georgian TV stations reported on election day that in the village of Khurcha on the Abkhaz administrative border the Abkhaz side blew up two buses ferrying ethnic Georgians from the Gali district of breakaway Abkhazia to Zugdidi. The passengers were on their way to vote, according to those reports. The Georgian Interior Ministry said that four women were injured in the attack. TV stations also aired footage showing armed Georgian policemen carrying a woman, who had a spot of blood on her back, as well as the buses on fire. Shooting could be heard in the footage.
The short documentary, which was screened on June 24 in one of Tbilisi movie theaters, however, tells a different story. It alleges that TV crews were brought to the scene in advance, and had time to prepare and set up their equipment before the buses were attacked.
Video footage obtained by the producers of the documentary from the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s archive (footage which was not aired on TV) shows two empty buses being hit by grenades. Because the frame is steady - despite the explosions - the documentary makers conclude that the camera must have been placed on a tripod.
“It is obvious from the footage that the video camera was placed on a tripod and [the cameraman was] waiting, which seems unnatural as gunfire is also heard in the footage. The second explosion was recorded by a cameraman without any reaction at all,” the documentary says. “The footage shows that the grenade was launched not far from where the cameraman was standing.” The documentary also alleges that the grenade was launched from a Georgian-controlled area.
The documentary also includes interviews with some local residents, who say that two unknown men came to the village asking locals to follow them as “people were needed for a video shoot.”
Batumelebi, a local weekly newspaper in Batumi, in an article on May 28 also interviewed residents of Khurcha, who said they had been asked by unknown men to participate in a video shoot.
The Khurcha incident is one of the episodes in the documentary, which mainly deals with alleged electoral violations during the May 21 parliamentary elections. It contains interviews with election observers, some from opposition parties, and journalists, who speak of intimidation and attacks on them while monitoring the elections.