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Russian Troops Keep Georgian Students From Crossing Border

The bridge over the Enguri River connects the Zugdidi and Gali districts.
The bridge over the Enguri River connects the Zugdidi and Gali districts.
TBILISI -- A Georgian school principal says he is concerned by the refusal of Russian troops to let 12 children from the Abkhaz village of Saberio cross into Georgia proper to attend school, RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus reports.

Vakhtang Gogokhia, school principal in the village of Tskau in the Gali district, told RFE/RL that several students from Saberio who cross the administrative boundary from Abkhazia every day to come to his school were stopped on January 20 and sent home.

Gogokhia added that the children were stopped in Gamtiadi, which is 2 kilometers from the border post.

Shota Utiashvili, a member of the Georgian delegation that met on January 20 with Abkhaz and Russian officials in Gali, told RFE/RL that the incident was discussed during the meeting.

Utiashvili said all sides agreed that children are subject to special rules and may cross the border in any sector. He said the Russian delegation said the incident with the students was due to an error among border guards and promised it will not be repeated.

The meeting was held in the framework of a mechanism to prevent and respond to incidents on the boundary separating the breakaway regions from Georgia proper.

Utiashvili added that all other residents are only allowed to cross from Abkhazia into the rest of Georgia at six official border posts. He added that according to rules established by Abkhaz officials, residents should have either a Russian or Abkhaz passport and cannot cross in a vehicle.

Utiashvili said those rules allow border guards to demand bribes.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the other breakaway Georgian region, declared their independence in August 2008 after a five-day war between Georgian and Russian forces.

Russia recognized them as independent countries and sent troops that patrol the two regions' administrative boundaries with Georgia proper.