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South Ossetia To Require Georgian IDs Translated Into Russian

A border post in the Akhalgori region
A border post in the Akhalgori region
TBILISI -- Officials in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia say that residents in the Akhalgori district will soon only be allowed to cross the boundary into Georgia proper if their documents are translated into Russian, RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus reports.

Georgian media reported on January 6 that starting on January 10 Georgian passports and other identification documents in Georgian will not be valid to cross the boundary from the Akhalgori district in South Ossetia to Georgia proper.

The Akhalgori district was overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Georgians before the five-day Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. After that some 5,000 of the nearly 8,000 ethnic Georgians fled the area. South Ossetian officials refer to the area as Leningor district.

Akhalgori district resident Tamara Mearkishvili told RFE/RL that form "no. 9," which was handed out by authorities in Georgia's breakaway republic in June and used by local residents to cross the boundary, expired on December 31.

She added that an announcement posted at Akhalgori border crossings stated that residents will no longer be allowed to cross the border with Georgian documents.

Mearkishvili said she hopes Russian passports will be handed out. She said the Russian ambassador in South Ossetia, Elbrus Kargiev, visited the district in October and advised people to switch to Russian passports because it would mean higher pensions and wages for the holder.

Paata Davitaia, the deputy speaker of the Georgian Parliament, told RFE/RL that such a regulation violates international law because residents who refuse to change their passport will eventually have to leave the territory.

Davitaia added that he will raise the issue at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on January 25.

Georgian Deputy State Minister for Reintegration Elene Tevdoradze told RFE/RL that she did not have any information about new passport rules in Akhalgori and that no complaints have yet been received regarding this issue.

But the pro-Georgian head of the Akhalgori district administration, Avtadil Kochishvili, told RFE/RL that the new regulation in the district states that the documents should be translated into Russian and verified by a notary by January 10.

Alan Jussoev, the head of the pro-South Ossetian Akhalgori administration, confirmed the changes, telling RFE/RL that the initiative is aimed at simplifying identification and "normalizing statistics" at border crossings.

He claimed that if Akhalgori residents switch to Russian passports they would be giving up their Georgian citizenship. Jussoev said it is necessary to close the border for a period of six months in order to "regulate the situation" in the breakaway republic.

He said local residents living at the administrative boundary should decide if they want to live in Georgia or in South Ossetia.

South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway territory, Abkhazia, declared their independence from Georgia after the armed conflict between Russian and Georgian forces.

Russia recognized their independence and Russian soldiers have been guarding the two self-proclaimed republics' border since then.