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U.S. Calls On Russia, South Ossetia To Repatriate Body Of Georgian Man

Archil Tatunashvili

The United States has called on Russia and Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia to repatriate the body of a Georgian man, Archil Tatunashvili, who died while in the custody of separatist officials.

Authorities in the Russia-backed South Ossetia say 35-year-old Tatunashvili died of heart failure on February 22 after he allegedly attacked police as they tried to move him to a detention cell.

Separatist authorities detained Tatunashvili, who they said was plotting terrorist attacks in South Ossetia.

The U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, speaking at a conference in Tbilisi on March 6, said that authorities in South Ossetia, whose official Georgian name is Tskhinvali District, should allow two other Georgian men remaining in the breakaway region to return home.

"Well, first of all, I think we are very supportive of the [Georgian] prime minister’s efforts and the efforts of his government to bring closure to the family of Mr. Tatunashvili and to the Georgian people and, of course accountability for what happened in this tragedy. This is obviously something that the United States is very interested in. We have followed it very closely. We are in touch with Moscow, and we call on both Moscow and Tskhinvali to immediately release the two detainees and to return the body and to have complete accountability in this tragic incident," Kelly said.

A day earlier, Amnesty International urged Russia and South Ossetia to properly investigate Tatunashvili's death and return his body to his relatives.

"Russia and the de facto authorities in Georgia’s disputed South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region must ensure a thorough, prompt, and impartial investigation into the death of a Georgian detainee, Archil Tatunashvili; and his body should be returned to his family as soon as possible," the statement said.

Georgia’s parliament is discussing two resolutions that put the blame for Tatunashvili’s death on Russia and urge Moscow to secure the safe return of two other Georgian nationals who were briefly detained along with Tatunashvili.

The incident has sparked outrage in Georgia and abroad.

The office of the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church said on March 4 that Patriarch Ilia II had received a promise from Russian Patriarch Kirill to assist in bringing Tatunashvili's body home.

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

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini's office 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 overwhelmingly recognizes the two territories as part of Georgia.