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Georgia Vows To Repatriate Man Who Died In Custody In South Ossetia

Archil Tatunashvili
Archil Tatunashvili

TBILISI -- Georgian authorities say they are working to repatriate the body of a Georgian man who died after being detained by the de facto authorities in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said after meeting with relatives of Archil Tatunashvili on March 2 that his government will do everything to bring Tatunashvili's body back to his family "as soon as possible."

Authorities in the Russia-backed separatist region of South Ossetia say 35-year-old Tatunashvili died of heart failure on February 22 while in custody. The authorities claim this happened after Tatunashvili allegedly attacked police as they tried to move him to a detention cell.

Georgian officials and Tatunashvili’s relatives doubt this version of events and are demanding his body be transferred to Tbilisi for an autopsy.

The incident has sparked outrage not only in Georgia but in the international community as well.

Georgia’s parliament on March 2 adopted a draft resolution that blames Russia for Tatunashvili’s death and urges Moscow to secure the safe return of two other Georgian nationals who were briefly detained along with Tatunashvili.

The office of the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church said on March 2 that Patriarch Ilia II had also met with Tatunashvili's relatives and had vowed to personally ask Russian Patriarch Kirill to assist in bringing Tatunashvili's body home.

Separatist authorities claim Tatunashvili was plotting terrorist attacks in South Ossetia.

The fates of Levan Kutashvili and Ioseb Pavliashvili, the two other Georgian nationals detained with Tatunashvili but later reportedly released, remain unclear.

The office of European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has expressed concerns over the situation, saying the EU is ready to support the investigation into Tatunashvili's death.

The president of the Council of Europe expressed “outrage and sorrow” following news of the death of Tatunashvili.

“A transparent investigation is urgently needed to establish the circumstances behind his death and the responsibility for this act” said Gudren Mosler-Tornstrom in a statement on February 27.

South Ossetia broke from Georgia after a war in the early 1990s. In 2008, Russia recognized it and another Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states. The international community largely recognizes the two territories as part of Georgia.

With reporting by