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South Ossetian Officials Release Three Georgians

TSKHINVALI -- Officials in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia have released three Georgians arrested for illegally crossing the border, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.

A Tskhinvali court ordered the release on May 13 of Levan Biganashvili, Aleko Didebashvili, and Merab Tvauri, who were among six residents from the villages of Lamiskani and Tvauri arrested in October by Russian border guards for illegally crossing into South Ossetia from Georgia proper.

The six said they were gathering firewood when they were arrested. The other three were release earlier this month.

The three recently released Georgians told RFE/RL that five trials were held regarding their case while they were detained for past seven months.

They said they were not tortured during detention but said the conditions in the prison they were kept were severe. They told RFE/RL that Georgian soldier Zviad Kobaladze is being kept in especially harsh conditions.

Earlier this month, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg managed to convince the self-declared South Ossetian government to release the other three Georgian detainees.

Last month, Georgian officials released six detainees from South Ossetia in what was viewed as a goodwill gesture.

South Ossetia Human Rights Commissioner David Sanakoev has said he wants to exchange all Georgian detainees for South Ossetians who are being kept by Tbilisi officials, including those arrested before the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Georgia, for its part, said it has only detained people from South Ossetia who have committed crimes whereas South Ossetian officials are detaining innocent people.

EU special envoy Pierre Morel, UN Secretary-General Special Envoy to Georgia Anti Turunen, and OSCE official Bolat Nurgaliyev met with de facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity in Tskhinvali on May 13. The officials discussed several issues regarding prisoners as well as political and security problems in the region.

Morel said after the meeting that South Ossetia agreed to adopt new mechanisms to prevent any further problems from developing in the region.