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Peace tent in near-border Ergneti2010-11-01 14:41
The village of Ergneti. Two flags - South Ossetian and Russian - are seen on one side of a large field. Two more flags - Georgian and the EU's - are on the other side. On wet grass washed by recent rain there is a huge canvas tent that is usually pitched for weddings and funerals. However, Georgian and Ossetian officials inside it are not celebrating or commiserating - they are solving questions of interrelations between the countries. Ergneti in "non-Geneva" setting is the only place where Ossetians and Georgian can discuss bilateral problems.
Ergneti village is unlucky to be situated directly on the border with South Ossetia. Had it been just a couple of kilometers away to the north or to the south, there would not be so many rubbled houses and roads defaced by the tanks.
In fact, Ergneti is twice unlucky. In earlier times the village used to host a large marketplace on which all South Ossetia and half of Georgia depended. Mikheil Saakashvili closed it down calling it "a place of illegal trade". As a result economic ties between Ossetians and Georgians were broken. And as we know, trade strengthens friendship between people much better than any non-aggression pact does. While the market was operating the village was the richest locality in Georgia.
Now, however, Ergneti is a political center. After the security meeting between South Ossetia and Georgia, locals can see their homes on TV all day long.
There is a wall of barbed wire on South Ossetian-Georgian border and the place for sessions has not been prepared. That is why the European Union in charge of the talks pitched its tent right in the middle between Russian and Georgian outposts. The "negotiation room" has two entrances: Ossetians and representatives of the Russian army can enter from the northern side while Georgians and representatives of international organizations - from the southern.
Meetings between conflicting sides on the border is not a new idea suffice it to remember Chuburkhinju - a place on the Georgian-Abkhaz border. The last meeting in Ergneti was held a year ago, on October 22, and ended in the demarche of Ossetians: they refused to take part in talks until the Georgian side disclosed information on location of dozens of missing Ossetians.
In summer 2010 an attempt made by international mediators to resume the dialogue faced insurmountable contradictions between the opponents. The Georgian side categorically dropped the subject of the missing and detained Ossetians in the territory of Georgia. Thus, the meeting ended without even starting.
That is why Hansjörg Haber, head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia went out to greet journalists smiling. He managed to make the conflicting sides sit down and talk. It will be remembered that South Ossetia declared return to the negotiating table in Ergneti on October 14, during Geneva talks.
Tskhinval, as before, ranks release of Ossetians from prisons as first priority. This time Shota Utiaskvhli, head of information and analytical department at the Georgian Ministry of Interior, stated that his country was ready for constructive talks on the issue. Search of the missing persons is becoming more intense with the results to be reported to South Ossetia.
There are two categories of Ossetians missing in Georgia: those officially condemned for illegal border crossing and persons who went missing at the time of the August 2008 war.
Official Tbilisi is ready to discuss terms of release of prisoners from Georgian penitentiaries providing no information on location of the missing persons though.