Some government officials and ruling party lawmakers criticized three Georgians, who traveled to Tskhinvali on December 16, for meeting with “criminal” leader of breakaway region, Eduard Kokoity.
Paata Zakareishvili of opposition Republican Party, who is a frequent commentator on conflict issues; Vakhtang Komakhidze, an investigative journalist, and Manana Mebuke, head of the Tbilisi-based non-governmental organization working on confidence-building between the communities on the opposite sides of administrative border, visited Tskhinvali on December 16.
Zakareishvili, who along with Mebuke returned back to Tbilisi later on the same day (journalist Vakhtang Komakhidze returned on December 17 – he said he was making a short documentary on the issue) said that the trip was organized by and pre-agreed with Tskhinvali-based non-governmental organizations.
He said that a meeting with Kokoity was not planned in advance and it was a spontaneous offer made by their hosts which he and two other visitors accepted, because it was a chance for them to tell the message directly to Kokoity about the need to release two Georgian minors remaining held in the Tskhinvali prison.
“Kokoity started conversation with putting forth his political assessments about the August war, blaming the Georgian leadership,” Zakareishvili said in multiple media interviews and comments made after visiting Tskhinvali. “I told him from the very beginning that we had not come to settle political issues and that I was not there to defend or to act as an opponent to Saakashvili. I told him that we had arrived to clarify issues related with the Georgian minors.”
Georgian State Minister, Temur Iakobashvili, said on December 17, that he believed there was no reason for those three Georgians to travel to Tskhinvali.
“But it’s up to them to decide… Georgia is a free country and every one can decide with whom to speak,” Iakobashvili said.
“I think we should establish relations first and foremost with people and not with criminal regime like Kokoity.”
“The real result [of this visit] is that Russians are already saying that there are people in Georgia, who agree with Kokoity and with his criminal gang – this is a result and the negative one; I will be glad if it will also have a positive result,” Iakobashvili added.
He was apparently referring to an announcement which was posted on a website of the breakaway region’s authorities, which said that Zakareishvili “fully agreed with all the remarks made by President of South Ossetian on the August events.”
“All those people, who decide to enter the occupied zone – and this territory is occupied by Russia and Kokoity is simply a representative of Russia – should know that they have to show utmost caution in order not to become a part of Kokoity’s anti-Georgian propaganda,” Nugzar Tsiklauri of the ruling National Movement Party, said on December 17.
“This is a disease not only for Georgia; such persons [referring to Zakareishvili] always existed during the various occupation regimes like in Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc. and their actions there have already been responded by the population after the de-occupation. The same will happen in case of these people [referring to those who visited Tskhinvali on December 16] as well – for some of them it will be a response through [results] in elections [here apparently referring to Zakareishvili who is Republican Party member] and for others from the moral point of view,” another lawmaker from the ruling party, Shota Malashkhia, said.
Davit Usupashvili, the leader of Republican Party, which is part of Alliance for Georgia, said on December 16 that he expected attacks on his party and in particular on Zakareishvili after his visit to Tskhinvali.
“But whatever it may be said, Zakareishvili was there with one concrete goal to try to make if possible any breakthrough on detained Georgian minors,” Usupashvili told the Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV.