Opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, accused authorities of acting in an “impatient manner” while tackling situation involving suspected militants in the Lopota gorge close to the Russian border.
Three Georgian special service personnel, including a military doctor, and 11 suspected Islamist militants died during the clash on August 29 close to the Dagestan section of the Georgian-Russian border.
After reports emerged in the media sources that several of killed gunmen were Georgian citizens, natives of the Pankisi gorge in north eastern Georgia, the Interior Ministry had to retract its initial denial that there were no Georgian citizens and confirmed on September 3 that two killed gunmen were Georgian citizens; it also said that five others were identified as Russian citizens natives of Chechnya and Ingushetia.
In a statement released on Tuesday evening the Georgian Dream coalition condemned, what it called, “criminally irresponsible information policy of the authorities.”
“It is absolutely obvious that the Interior Ministry was concealing information about identities of people liquidated in an operation close to the Lapankuri village [in the Lopota gorge] from its population for several days and was dishonestly lying that there were no Georgian citizens among them,” the Georgian Dream said.
“Horrifying details are being reported about moral pressure exerted on relatives of those killed [in the operation],” it said, referring to media reports from Pankisi gorge according to which the authorities tried to prevent leak of information to media sources and were telling locals to bury those killed in the special operation quietly without presence of media.
“Such attitude naturally causes the society’s justified irritation and intensifies doubts towards the authorities, whose credibility is already lost. It seems that President Saakashvili benefits from constantly keeping the society in the state of anticipation of peril and by doing so [aims] at suppressing citizens’ free will,” the Georgian Dream said in the statement.
“Even based on existing scarce and contradictory information, which the authorities disseminate, there is an impression that the authorities have acted in a characteristically impatient manner and launched the special operation in a condition when the possibilities of a negotiated solution were not fully exhausted and in a condition when there was still a minimal chance of avoiding casualties,” the Georgian Dream said.
“At the same time we want to appeal to relevant international organization and friendly states to continue watching closely developments in Georgia, especially in pre-election period, and to intensify consultations with political and civil society organizations and to make events in the Lopota gorge subject of thorough discussions,” it said.
Three men – two Georgian citizens, 22-year-old Aslan Margoshvili, 26-year-old Bahaudin Kavtarashvili and Russian citizen, 26-year-old Bahaudin Baghakashvili, who was reportedly visiting his relatives in the Pankisi gorge days before the clash in Lopota gorge – were buried on September 3-4 in the Duisi village of the Pankisi gorge.
Reports are also coming from the Pankisi gorge, according to which not only these three men, but four others, who have been identified by the Interior Ministry, were in Pankisi at least several days before the clash in the Lopota gorge. These reports question initial assumptions, that before the clash with the Georgian troops the gunmen, described by the Interior Ministry as “squad of saboteurs”, crossed into the territory of Georgia from the North Caucasus. Although the Georgian authorities have not stated directly that the gunmen came from the North Caucasus before clashing with the Georgian troops, their public statements on the issue were suggesting in favor of this version of infiltration of gunmen from the North Caucasus, particularly from Dagestan.